Strategic Production Response Act to be Considered Today Under Open Rule

Today, the House will begin consideration of H.R. 21 – Strategic Production Response Act.  The 3-page bill prohibits non-emergency drawdowns of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve without a plan to increase federal lands available for energy production by an equal amount.  The real significance of the bill is how it will be considered in the House – under an open rule.  This has not happened in the House in over 7 years, so it will be interesting to watch.

House Republicans took several days and 15 ballots to elect Speaker McCarthy.  It was not how they planned to start their new majority.  But over the course of the days spent resolving the standoff, House Republicans negotiated amongst themselves how the House would be governed.  One of the chief complaints of the Freedom Caucus for the past decade has been their view that the Speaker has too much power and has shut off the rank-and-file Members from participating in the legislative process.  It should be noted this critique extends well beyond the Freedom Caucus and many Democrats share the concern.  A prime example of the concern is the fact that legislation comes to the floor under a “closed” rule – the only amendments that are allowed to be offered are those approved by the Rules Committee – a committee controlled by the Speaker’s office.  So, for seven years, Members have not been able to offer amendments to bills on the floor.   (And it has been very rare for over a decade).

There, of course, is a reason Speakers have blocked open rules.  Amendments can be politically charged and adoption of an amendment can sometimes result in the vote coalition for final passage of the bill falling apart.  Most of the amendments under an open rule tend to come from the minority party, and the Speaker’s office has shielded vulnerable members of their party from having to take votes on purely political amendments offered by the minority party. 

Speaker McCarthy agreed to allow open rules as much as possible in the 118th Congress and most members of the Republican conference support this decision and are hopeful it provides a release valve for built-up frustrations about the top-down management of the House in recent history.  Today is a trial run.

As expected, the bulk of the amendments to H.R. 21 are being offered by Democrats.  Most are more political than substantiative.  But some of the amendments are being offered by Republican Members.  Rank and file members of both parties will have an opportunity to try and put their stamp on the legislation.  This will be one of the more interesting dynamics to watch as the 118th Congress proceeds. 


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