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What the next speaker of the House must do

In the last 16 months, the House Republican Conference has lost Majority Leader Eric Cantor to a primary challenger and Speaker John Boehner to resignation under a parliamentary threat. Today, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy removed himself from the race to replace the Speaker. As a Conference, we are adrift, fractioned and leaderless. Those few members who are fit to unite us and lead the Conference have been reluctant to step forward.




President Theodore Roosevelt once quipped "[i]f you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month." As a Conference, we have gotten ourselves into this mess; it will take true leadership to emerge from this chaos. I believe that starts with ensuring process prevails over political posturing.

Congress has moved away from its core function of deliberation, and instead moved towards favoring process efficiency and electioneering. There has been an ever increasing trend of important pieces of legislation coming to the floor without being reported out of committee and with heavy-handed rules limiting amendments and debate. This deviation from the process has resulted in the command-and-control leadership structure we have today.



We must move to a system where good policy is valued over political expedience. Such a transition begins with regular order. At a basic level, regular order means committee hearings and mark-ups are followed by floor consideration of legislation — the rules and customs of Congress that constitute an orderly policy-making process.

To initiate change here in the House and unite the Conference, I spearheaded a letter to House Leadership candidates urging them to incorporate certain reforms into their platforms. The reforms we suggested were simple: restore regular order, empower subcommittee chairs, create a culture of inclusiveness, and present members with a transparent path to ensure floor consideration of their legislative priorities. Unfortunately, most candidates have been busy making calls for support instead of putting together a plan to unify our Conference.


I was also concerned with the rush to hold all leadership elections this week, and several of my colleagues and I began to circulate another letter asking that Leadership elections take place once a vacancy was created - which is required by our Conference Rules - and asking for members' ideas regarding the rules to be considered prior to those elections. In other words, we asked for more time to give members a chance for introspections and offer specific proposals. I applauded the Speaker's decision to delay the elections for non-vacant leadership posts in accordance with the Rules. Sadly, we immediately violated those very rules today after the frontrunner bowed out.

We should have given Conference a chance to vote on Speaker with the two members who were still in the race. With the Speaker's elections postponed, however, we have time for new candidates to emerge and outline their agenda to transform the Conference.



Before he took the Speaker's gavel, then-Minority Leader John Boehner said, "[t]he truth is, much of the work of committees has been co-opted by leadership. In too many instances, we no longer have legislators; we just have voters." I agree with this sentiment and it's time we put the Speaker's words into action.

We cannot continue this cycle of crisis governance; we must restore regular order in Congress.

Commentary by Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), a former business leader and member of the House Ways & Means Committee. Follow him on Twitter @repjimrenacci.