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House adopts Democrats’ new rules package for 116th Congress

January 4, 2019

The House on Thursday voted to adopt Democrats’ new rules for the chamber in the 116th Congress, including provisions intended to head off thorny debt ceiling battles, repeal tax cut-friendly budgeting, and reinstate “pay-as-you-go” rules opposed by some liberals.

The House voted to pass the bulk of the Democrats’ rules package on a 234-197 vote that broke largely along party lines.

“It’s finally a new day for this Congress, and this rules package is our first opportunity to chart a new course,” said Rep. James McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat and the new chairman of the House Rules Committee.

Some liberal Democrats, including Reps. Ro Khanna of California and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, had already announced Wednesday that they would vote no on the package because of a new provision that reinstates a “pay-go” rule requiring that new spending be offset with other spending cuts or tax increases.

Liberals said that passing the new rule could prevent House Democrats from pursuing sweeping legislation like Medicare-for-all, though some members said they’ve gotten assurances from leadership that the provision can be waived.

Another provision seeks to head off perennial battles over lifting the country’s debt limit by tying a suspension of the debt ceiling to the passage of an annual budget resolution though the GOP-controlled Senate would also have to sign off in the event that the House does pass a budget plan this year.

Several provisions could also make it easier for House Democrats to pass legislation repealing all or part of the GOP tax cuts Congress approved in December 2017.

One would remove a requirement that a three-fifths majority is needed to increase federal income taxes, while another removes a requirement that congressional scorekeepers factor in broader economic effects of bills through “dynamic scoring” when tallying the cost of legislation.

Republicans had approved the rule on dynamic scoring, saying it takes into account a better economy and increased revenues they say results from tax-cut legislation.

In a nod to liberals, the package also establishes a select committee on climate change.

“The Democrats have chosen today to increase spending, add a partisan select committee to the institution, and pave the way to pass tax-and-spend legislation,” said Rep. Tom Cole, the top Republican on the rules committee.

The rules also extend floor voting privileges to delegates to Congress from territories and the District of Columbia in Committees of the Whole, though they are not allowed to vote when the House proper is meeting.

Religious headdresses will also now be allowed on the chamber floor, paving the way for Muslim female lawmakers to be covered under the guidelines of their religious faith.

In the wake of recent sexual harassment issues on Capitol Hill, there are new provisions requiring each House office to adopt anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.

The rules also require members to reimburse the government for discrimination settlements, and extend annual ethics training requirements to all members.

Leaders were planning to vote later on other parts of the package that Mr. McGovern and Speaker Nancy Pelosi rolled out earlier in the week.

Those sections establish a select committee on “modernizing Congress” and authorize the House to intervene in a Texas-based lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare.

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