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House rules changes breeze through the chamber following a bitter speaker fight

Newly elected speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy holds the gavel on Jan. 7, 2023.
Olivier Douliery
/
AFP via Getty Images
Newly elected speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy holds the gavel on Jan. 7, 2023.

Updated January 9, 2023 at 7:33 PM ET

The House of Representatives has approved the rules package for the 118th Congress in a near party-line vote, in what marked the first legislative test of newly elected Speaker Kevin McCarthy's narrow GOP majority.

Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas joined all Democrats in voting against the package.

Negotiations on the rules package were central to McCarthy's dramatic and prolonged bid for House speaker. McCarthy was able to secure the gavel by brokering a deal to win over a bloc of holdouts in the far-right faction of his conference.

Perhaps most notable among McCarthy's concessions was allowing just one lawmaker to force a vote on ousting the speaker.

Gonzales, the lone GOP dissenter, had expressed concerns about cuts to defense spending, and said the one-member threshold on a motion to vacate the chair could lead to "nightmare after nightmare" for House Republicans.

Georgia Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde, a McCarthy holdout who eventually flipped his vote for speaker last week, praised the motion to vacate during debate on the House floor Monday night.

"By restoring this historic rule, every solitary member has the authority to hold the speaker accountable for following all of the rules," he said.

Part of the brokering surrounding the speaker's elections also included commitments to cut government spending, according to lawmakers involved in negotiations.

The full written agreement has not been made public. But it's clear that key provisions could empower the conservative wing of the party and ultimately weaken the office of the speaker.

Among the key rules changes conservatives won are:

  • Just one member to sponsor a motion to remove the speaker, instead of requiring a majority of either party. McCarthy had resisted this change, instead seeking a compromise that would require five members to advance the motion. But conservatives noted the threshold had historically been one member, until Democrats voted to change it under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2019. 
  • The establishment of a "Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government." The subcommittee is expected to investigate what conservatives see as the politicization of the FBI and DOJ.
  • 72 hours notice before voting on a bill.
  • The deal also makes a path for massive spending cuts

    Rep. French Hill, a McCarthy ally who was involved in negotiations, told reporters the framework sets an "aspirational goal for domestic discretionary at fiscal year 2022 levels," but does not include specific budget caps. The FY22 budget was approximately $1.5 trillion.

    Fiscal conservatives have long been pushing for spending restraint. But the agreement has raised concerns about cuts to the defense budget.

    Rep. Chip Roy, one of the initial McCarthy holdouts who negotiated the agreement, said it would set a "top level spending mark."

    "What we're doing is setting top-level spending marks — $1.471 trillion — now go figure out how to spend your money," Roy told reporters Friday. "That's how you operate at home. Why do it any differently? The American people are tired of writing endless blank checks."

    In order to curb spending, House Republicans will seek to advance 12 individual government funding bills each year rather than one large omnibus package. Raising the federal debt limit will need to be accompanied by measures to cut spending, according to the framework.

    "We don't want to agree to a debt limit, you know, without some sort of a control mechanism, budget reform, spending reforms," Hill said.

    The government is supposed to hit the debt ceiling by this summer.

    And it makes room for more conservative representation on committees

    Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus are expected to gain seats on key committees like Rules and Appropriations thanks to the deal.

    "The agreement centers on making sure that all the standing committees of Congress are reflective of all of the viewpoints inside our conference," Hill told reporters.

    Roy said on The Mark Levin Show on Sunday that McCarthy agreed to appoint conservatives to the powerful Rules Committee. "We're now going to have conservative representation on that committee," Roy said. "Now we can help control that we get good bills to the floor and advance conservative bills for the American people."

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Lexie Schapitl is a production assistant with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces and digital content. She also reports from the field and assists with production of the NPR Politics Podcast.
    Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.