Tom Reed pushes change to power structure in Congress

Will House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who is the first woman to ever hold the speaker’s office, retain her spot after the new Congress convenes in January? Democrats took control of the House in this month’s midterm elections. But a number of Democratic House candidates promised not to vote for Pelosi as speaker.

Striking out in the middle of this showdown among Democrats is Republican Tom Reed of Corning. Reed, who just won re-election in the 23rd District that includes part of Ontario County, said he will support Pelosi for speaker — that is, if she agrees to rules changes to move power away from the speaker’s office. Reed is co-chairman of The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of Congress members who want to change the rules.

“The House had become a top-down driver organization controlled essentially by the speakers office,” Reed said in a CNN interview this week. “We want to reward bipartisan efforts and debate."

The speaker holds enormous power in deciding how the House functions. The speaker essentially chooses which lawmakers sit on what committees and which legislation comes to the floor. Reed and the 48-member caucus, which Reed co-chairs with Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-New Jersey, propose a package of changes they say would “fast-track priority consideration to bipartisan legislation.”

How would it work? Reed said if a Congress member got consensus points, essentially a minimum number of co-sponsors on proposed legislation or amendments, “we will bring it to the floor and have an up-or-down vote.”

“I am willing to support Nancy Pelosi if she embraces these rule reforms,” Reed said, adding he would support her, or any other Democrat, for speaker who commits to the changes.

Will the proposal make any headway? Neither party would want to loosen the power that comes from having a majority in the 435-member House, including the traditional hold on the speaker’s gavel. Institutional-minded lawmakers will certainly gripe that any changes that strip away majority power would make the House function more like the Senate, with its complex rules that protect the minority.

The proposal includes:

— Changing House rules for electing the speaker. It’s now a simple majority, which almost guarantees that the speaker will come from the majority party. The requirement for a winning vote would be five more lawmakers than the majority party holds, in a nod to bipartisanship.

— Barring a single lawmaker from filing a motion demanding a vote of no confidence in the speaker. Instead, a motion could only be filed when a party’s full caucus agrees.

— Evening out membership on the House Rules Committee, which determines the process for considering House bills and amendments on the floor. This change would give the minority a greater say on the flow of legislation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.