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Politics

US Capitol Building
US Capitol in Washington, DC. Photo credit: Kārlis Dambrāns / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As a patchwork solution to their failure to unite behind one speaker of the house, some Republicans have suggested giving the speaker pro tempore broader authority to at least get some business done. In a letter they sent to McHenry late Friday, four centrist Democrats said this is a plan they could get behind… for a price.

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While House Republicans are wallowing in their own dysfunction, a group of centrist Democrats is offering the GOP a way out of the mess it has created… at least a temporary one.

They are proposing an expansion of the authority of the speaker pro tempore. The position, which was created after 9/11 to ensure that the House could function without a speaker, is currently filled by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC).

However, because the provision establishing the position was added to House rules only recently, nobody has any idea how much authority the speaker pro tempore has. Some experts contend that McHenry has the same vast powers as an elected speaker while others argue that all he can do is preside over the election of a new speaker.

Generally, it seems as though it is more likely the latter, which matters a great deal during the current impasse.

Without a speaker, the House is effectively paralyzed and cannot conduct regular business or do things like pass bills. And, because Republicans are nowhere close to electing a new speaker, this could go on for some time.

However, that’s not really an option because Congress has a lot of pressing business to attend to… first and foremost preventing a government shutdown and providing aid to Israel.

As a patchwork solution, some Republicans have suggested giving the speaker pro tempore broader authority to at least get some business done.

In a letter they sent to McHenry late Friday, four centrist Democrats said this is a plan they could get behind… for a price.

“In light of our nation’s pressing issues, a looming government shutdown, and the attacks on our key ally, Israel, we strongly support an immediate vote to expand the Speaker Pro Tempore’s authorities to allow for the consideration of a legislative agenda limited to the most pressing issues,” wrote Reps. Josh Gottheimer (NJ), Ed Case (HI), Susie Lee (NV), and Jared Golden (ME).

The four are members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which would certainly do its name justice if a deal can be struck.

They are proposing that the House vote on expanding McHenry’s powers for 15 days at a time. However, under their plan, he would not have the full authority of an elected speaker and could only bring up certain pieces of legislation.

Specifically, they want McHenry to be able to introduce both a continuing resolution that keeps the government open through January 11 and also emergency funding measures for Israel and Ukraine. He could also bring up the remaining appropriations bills the House has not yet passed. 

In addition, they also want the speaker pro tempore to be able to introduce suspension bills evenly distributed among the majority and the minority caucuses. These are pieces of legislation that cannot be amended but require two-thirds of the votes to pass.

This could force Democrats to make Republicans vote down popular measures.

Still, their offer would at least allow the House to function while the GOP flails around and tries to find a new speaker.

In the end, if they have to rely on Democrats to do so, it stands to reason that they will have to pay a much higher price than for this patchwork solution. 

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