John Boehner (R-OH) took the Speaker’s gavel in January 2011 promising to run a more open U.S. House of Representatives than his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).  In the three and a half years since then, Boehner has made good on that pledge by allowing more amendments and a steady stream of “open rules,” while the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate under Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has gone in the other direction. 

One congressional expert calls open rules, which allow Members to freely offer amendments of essentially any nature during consideration of a given bill, “essential for fair consideration of legislation on the House floor.”  Under Boehner’s leadership, Members on both sides of the aisle have been allowed to offer significantly more amendments, and the House has operated under far more open rules than were allowed under the previous, Democratic-controlled House. 

The final years of the Pelosi-run House were a tour-de-force in closed government.  During the final two years of Rep. Pelosi’s time as speaker (2009-2010), the House never considered a single bill under an open rule.  Some Members of Congress served their entire House careers under Speaker Pelosi without ever operating under an open rule. 

Under Speaker Boehner, however, things have been different:

  • More Than 20 Open Rules Since 2011.  Since the start of the 113th Congress (2013-2014), the House has operated under no fewer than seven open rules.  This pace continues the track record of greater openness set by the Boehner-led House during the 112th Congress (2011-2012), when there were no fewer than 14 open rules utilized.  Both totals stand in stark contrast with then-Speaker Pelosi’s record of allowing zero open rules during the 111th Congress (2009-2010). 
  • The House Has Opened Up, While the Senate Has Shut Down.  Since the start of the 113th Congress, Speaker Boehner has allowed more than 1,000 amendments to be offered on the House floor, including a total of 488 amendments offered by Democrats, and another 137 amendments that were bipartisan.  By contrast, in the past year (since July 2013), Leader Reid has allowed the Republican minority in the Senate recorded votes on just nine (!) amendments. 
  • More Amendments Considered.  Speaker Pelosi allowed a total of 778 amendments to be considered during the 111th Congress (2009-2010).  Under Speaker Boehner in the current Congress, as of June 6, 2014, the House had considered a total of 1,114 amendments – far exceeding Pelosi’s 111th Congress total, with many months still left to go on the legislative calendar.
  • More Amendments Made In Order.  In Speaker Pelosi’s 111th Congress, 17 percent of all amendments submitted by Members were made in order.  In the 113th Congress under Speaker Boehner, 40 percent of all amendments submitted have been made in order.  In the 112th Congress under Speaker Boehner, 38 percent of all amendments submitted were made in order.
  •  More Balanced and Fair.  In Speaker Pelosi’s 111th Congress, 57 percent of the amendments made in order were amendments offered by the Democratic majority; just 36 percent came from the Republican minority.  By contrast, during the 113th Congress to date, 42 percent of the amendments made in order have been Democratic amendments, and 42 percent have been Republican amendments.  The totals for the current Congress do NOT include amendments offered under open rules.  

(Source: House Rules Committee data)


Does all this arcane stuff make any difference for hardworking taxpayers?  As it turns out: yes, it does.    

The new openness in the House under Speaker Boehner has been particularly apparent during consideration of some of the large spending bills (appropriations bills) that fund the annual operations of the federal government, which Boehner and other Republicans promised in 2010 would be subject to greater scrutiny and debate if Republicans were entrusted with the majority.

Proponents of spending control and smaller government consider open rules, which allow members to freely offer amendments to cut unnecessary government spending, to be an invaluable tool for fighting government waste.  It’s no coincidence that the iron-fisted, closed approach practiced under Speaker Pelosi coincided with an explosion in new government spending, including the approval of thousands of taxpayer-funded pork-barrel earmarks riding on appropriations bills.  The new House Republican majority adopted a rule banning earmarks in late 2010 shortly after Boehner was elected to serve as the next Speaker. 

Greater openness in the legislative process means greater scrutiny of spending bills, which in turn means more accountability from elected officials for hardworking taxpayers. 

Under Speaker Boehner, the House has taken steps to open things up.  With Americans’ trust in government at record lows, it’s time for Leader Reid and his Democratic-controlled Senate to follow suit.