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This low-key committee could sink or save the Biden-McCarthy deal

After a string of failed votes in early January, Kevin McCarthy (R-California) finally relented and agreed to add far-right lawmakers to the obscure but powerful rules committee — a conservative request that helped him to get the votes to win the speaker’s gavel.

Now, having struck a debt and budget deal with President Biden, McCarthy will soon learn whether that concession to the far right was a bridge too far to cut compromise deals with Democrats.

Often referred to as “the Speaker’s Committee,” the Rules Committee is made up entirely of people appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Minority Leader. It’s slanted so extreme – nine members from the majority party, only four from the minority – that speakers always get what they want.

Most bills submitted to the full House must first be considered by this committee, which determines which amendments, if any, will be considered, the length of debate and any other special considerations, before the bill is submitted. Lawmakers and longtime aides were stunned by the concession, as it effectively took McCarthy’s overwhelming majority on the committee and made him beholden to the far right.

“This is the mechanism the Speaker uses to maintain control of the House floor,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) wrote in his official biography, explaining his new mission.

To keep his promise to give the hard right a voice on the panel, McCarthy named Massie and Reps Ralph Norman (RS.C.) and Chip Roy (R-Tex.). Norman and Roy are members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, which has been highly critical of the Biden-McCarthy deal framework, while Massie is an eclectic libertarian who is socially and ideologically close to the Freedom Caucus.

By tradition, minority party committee members never vote for a majority-drafted rule, and if the three dedicated Tories don’t approve of any McCarthy deal, they could sink the bill at the Rules Committee by teaming up. to the four Democrats.

Roy and Norman are already opposed to the legislation.

“It’s completely unacceptable, and it’s not what we agreed to,” Norman told The Washington Post on Friday, as the outlines of the deal were taking shape.

After McCarthy briefed Republicans on a conference call Saturday night, Norman took to Twitter to denounce the agreement as “madness”. Roy on Sunday morning tweeted that the deal was a “shitty sandwich”.

That could leave Massie as the swing vote on the Rules Committee: In theory, four Democrats plus Norman and Roy would vote no, with McCarthy’s six stalwart allies voting yes.

Massie is officially undecided on the legislation.

“Need to see the text,” Massie wrote via text Sunday.

An engineer who started a tech company and earned 29 patents, Massie has oscillated between being a major thorn in the side of GOP leaders and an emerging ally. In January, Massie backed McCarthy up as a speaker from the start and worked as a go-between for the roughly 20 holdouts who fought through a tough negotiation before allowing McCarthy to win the hammer.

Massie went on to win the plum job of the Rules Committee and a spot on the federal government’s select Armaments Subcommittee.

On Sunday, McCarthy checked Massie’s name for his work on a provision that was included in the deal with Biden, a procedural mechanism that requires Congress to approve the 12 appropriation bills that fund federal agencies.

The text of this proposal is not yet available, but it appears that if Congress does not complete its work on these bills, the entire federal government would continue to operate on the previous year’s allotment, less a reduction of 1%.

“So it also inspires you to do your job. It was like an idea [was] presented by Thomas Massie, and I think that’s a very positive idea,” McCarthy told reporters.

To get his provision passed into law, Massie may have to agree to run into his conservative friends and vote for the entire legislation, first in the Rules Committee and then in the House.

If Massie joins Roy and Norman in opposition, there’s no ban on Rules Democrats voting for the bill to get it to the floor – but that’s just something no one remembers to have happened in the modern, politically polarized era of Congress.

Outside conservative campaigners have already begun to focus on the three most conservative members of the committee. Russ Vought, the former Trump administration budget chief who heads a think tank that advises members of the Freedom Caucus on fiscal policy, spent Saturday night and Sunday morning denouncing the Biden-McCarthy deal on Twitter.

“There are three curators on the all-important rules committee for a reason,” Vought wrote. at 1:34 a.m. Sunday. “Good night.”


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