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State of suspension: Lawmakers gripe about fast-tracked bills under Speaker Johnson

Victor Feldman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

As lawmakers stare down another deadline to fund the government, Speaker Mike Johnson is facing a fresh round of criticism in the House over his go-to move to pass bills: bypass the Rules Committee, sideline Freedom Caucus members and rely on Democrats’ votes.

The frustration centers on the speaker’s heavy use of a House procedure known as “suspension of the rules,” which is designed to expedite the passage of legislation by barring amendments, limiting debate and avoiding a separate vote on a rule to set the terms of that debate. Placing a bill on what is unofficially known as the “suspension calendar” allows it to skip over the House Rules Committee, the powerful body that, under normal circumstances, gets to control the flow of legislation to the floor.

The catch: Any measure considered under suspension of the rules requires a two-thirds vote to pass, which means GOP leadership must count on Democrats to help.

In recent months, Johnson, R-La., has used the suspension process to push through major legislation, including a sweeping $79 billion bipartisan tax bill and an $886 billion national defense policy bill, along with two stopgap spending bills to keep the government funded.

While they disagree on why it matters, a growing number of lawmakers in both parties are taking Johnson to task for what they see as an overreliance on suspending the rules to pass consequential and controversial items. The loudest protests are coming from members of the House Freedom Caucus, who say Johnson is ramming things through the suspension process to avoid negotiating with their membership on policy disputes.

“I get the sense that leadership is trying to bypass conservatives and instead work with Democrats to get things passed,” Rep. Ralph Norman said in an emailed statement earlier this month.

 

Norman described it as a “bad habit” that GOP leadership has fallen into. “I am opposed to leadership utilizing suspensions so frequently to pass these large bills with massive policy implications that we are seeing so often now,” he added.

The South Carolina congressman, along with fellow Freedom Caucus member Chip Roy of Texas and frequent ally Thomas Massie of Kentucky, is part of a trio of rebellious conservative members who sit on the Rules Committee. Together, they can block legislation they don’t like from clearing the panel and reaching the House floor.

They landed those spots thanks to a concession made by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had to woo hard-line Republicans as he struggled to win the gavel at the beginning of 2023. Now the GOP conference is reaping what it sowed, according to some Democrats.

“This is a consequence of the bargain McCarthy made,” said Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez of New Mexico, who sits on the Rules Committee. “It’s because of Republican infighting that they cannot pass rules on the floor.”

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