This article was published in the Muncie Star on October 24, 2015.
It is often said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” That simple wisdom guides my thinking as we choose our next speaker and get back to the work of the American people. We shouldn’t keep doing things the same way unless we want the same results.
For decades, the House of Representatives has operated under a centralized power structure. The speaker, majority leader, and, to an extent, committee chairmen have set the legislative agenda and rank-and-file members are expected to follow along. For a while — maybe generations — that worked. But, it’s not working any more, and we need to change it.
In the past five years, the American people elected a new wave of lawmakers from diverse districts — each of them with deeply-held beliefs that reflect the values of their constituencies. In fact, almost half the chamber was elected in the past five years — nearly 60 percent of the Republicans. Those are historically unprecedented numbers.
Yet, the House’s traditional, seniority-driven, top-down leadership structure makes it difficult for these new members to get their voices heard. In fact, I’m the only caucus-wide elected Republican leader from this new wave of members. The Democratic caucus has similar challenges, and our chamber is worse off for it.
There are other problems, too. House rules make it virtually impossible for an individual member to push a bill to the House floor for debate — let alone for a vote. That approach has been the norm, regardless of party, for decades. And, it’s frustrating, not only for members of Congress, but also for the folks who sent us to Washington to represent them.
The House of Representatives would be a much healthier body if its power structure changed. A more open approach would ensure the elected members, and therefore, their constituents, were being heard. That’s why I am focused on changing the way we do things in the House. It’s time to empower the American people through empowering their elected representatives.
As Policy Committee Chairman, I’ve spent the last month working with Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to develop a plan to do this — a plan the new speaker can use as a guide to bring our conference back together again.
My plan includes opening up the legislative process so rank-and-file members have a greater say in what legislation is considered on the House floor, developing a set of rules that the entire Republican Conference is willing to follow and building a governing structure that brings a more diverse group of Representatives to the leadership table. The details of these changes will matter. But, they need to be part of the discussion as we elect the next speaker of the House.
People are tired of the status quo. It’s past-time we change the way we operate in “the People’s House.” We will, no doubt, elect a new speaker soon. But, no single person can fix what’s broken right now. For Republicans in the House to be a successful governing body that works for the American people, we have to push past old models of operating. The next speaker needs the benefit of a reformed governing structure — a system that better reflects the makeup of our conference, allows for input of rank-and-file members and relies on well-understood rules that everyone can agree to follow. Change is never easy. But, in the end, these changes will be well worth the effort.