Under regular order, House bills go through an often-lengthy process from subcommittee to the floor; they are vetted, debated, and amended before receiving a final up-or-down vote. A return to regular order is one of the few areas with serious support from both ultraconservative Freedom Caucus members and progressive reformers in the House. After all, legislators on both sides of the aisle want a chance to be heard, offer amendments, and share expertise. Ryan concurred: “The committees should retake the lead in drafting all major legislation. When we rush to pass bills, a lot of us do not understand, we are not doing our job.”
That’s why it was surprising when, just three weeks into his tenure as speaker, Ryan laid this promise to rest. In the wake of the Paris attacks, Ryan brought the American SAFE Act—a bill to rewrite refugee vetting rules—to the floor without committee hearings, without input from experts or agencies, and without opportunities for amendment from members of the House.
But it’s not just Ryan. Veering away from regular order ultimately reflects a trend that’s much bigger than Ryan, bigger than either party, and bigger than any one branch of government. In the age of the hyper-accelerated news cycle and all-encompassing zero-sum attack politics, top leadership in both Congress and the White House feel increasing pressure to consolidate power and micromanage decision-making in order to maintain control over the message. After all, if not for optics, why rush a bill through the House when the president has already said he’d veto it? Unfortunately, the upshot of caving to this pressure to do something—anything—leads to rampant unchecked power and a reduced role for traditional experts and empirical analysis in policymaking.