Open rules on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, that is, the ability for every member of the U.S. House to offer any amendment on the House floor to a bill, are few and far between and are viewed by the majority of either party as something done rarely.
This is a mistake. Open rules act, more than anything else, as incumbent protection by creating a release valve for political pressure and allows potentially lethal political issues to be dealt with before it damages the majority party. Open rules help the majority stay in power, and it is especially true for issues that ignite passions, like health care reform or guns or immigration.
These are two big reasons we need more open rules on all major House legislation:
First, open rules allowing all amendments act as early warning mechanism, a trip wire for the political elite who are often highly insulated and unprepared for an issue that lurks in the background and then hurts them during an election. Open rules allow issues that are blocked or stopped by powerful interest groups from coming to the fore and getting the attention they need — and open rules allow the majority of the U.S. House to work it’s will. (An open rule is the opposite of the cram-down, which is what the Dems did on ObamaCare. And the Dems lost control of the U.S. House for their cram-down.)
Conversely, closed rules encourage Groupthink, and encourage delusional political thinking by preventing the majority party from being exposed to debates about issues they may not want to discuss or vote on, but need to be voted on and debated to keep them in power.
Open rules also help prevent serious political errors in judgement and reduce radicalism. If the crazies on either side of the aisle get a chance to offer their issue for a vote, and they lose big time, it will shut them up. It will also prevent them from working an issue that has zero support or chance of becoming law, and perhaps, instead, work on something constructive.
Open rules also help de-radicalize certain Members of Congress from using an issue to their own political advantage at the cost of the whole. If a Member cares passionately about some issue and has a vote which illustrates to that Member just how little support they have, it will cause them to move on, or seriously re-evaluate their views, or amend their proposal substantially.
There are many times when an issue really does need to be addressed and voted on that has been pushed aside or otherwise ignored. For example, if an open rule on ObamaCare was used when it was up on the floor of the U.S. House, the Dems would not be in such a world of political pain now.
Conversely, using the House rules to suppress the will of the majority of the U.S. House — when the majority party is afraid of allowing a vote because they fear losing it — it’s a big red warning light on the dashboard for the majority party. The majority should not be ignoring it by suppressing it. Suppressing these types of votes just kicks the can down the road, and teaches voters that there is no other way for their issue to be addressed other than vote out their member of Congress during the next election.
Protecting incumbents is often about allowing a vote to occur on an issue the leadership or some in the party strongly oppose, to allow the part of the public who care passionately about it, to be able to say, well, at least my issue got a vote and was dealt with, even though my own Representative disagrees, at least he or she did not prevent a vote. And if the vote wins on the floor of the House, these voters will be even more appreciative of the party that allowed their issue to win a majority, even when the some in party in power may not agree.
It will create great loyalty to the majority party by the voter.
There are few things that enrage voters more than being ignored or that their issue, that they believe in so strongly and could win on the floor of the House, is blocked from even being voted on.
It is a form of cowardliness and political weakness to hide behind House rules to stop an issue from being voted on — if you cannot win the majority of the entire U.S. House when your party is in charge, then you may be on the wrong side of an issue; or your side is simply weak or incompetent and is clearly not doing what is needed politically.
Such issues are exactly and precisely the types of issues that will be used to successfully to organize the majority of the voters to vote the party in power, out of power.
Using the House rules for closed votes helps those in power in the short-term, but will undermine their political majority in the long term, by allowing issues that are not dealt with to become campaign issues, and by preventing the majority of the House’s will to be enacted into law. Voters will understand that, and will change those in power, just to get a vote.
Finally, if you believe that the U.S. House of Representatives reflects the political make up of the U.S., then why should anyone be afraid of an open rule allowing all amendments? And if you are in the majority party, and you do not believe that the U.S. House reflects the make up in the House, then you will likely find yourself in the minority, soon.