Ryan proposes punishing grandstanding House members


U.S. Speaker Paul Ryan and his Republican lieutenants want to hit fellow lawmakers with fines and potential ethics violations if they engage in live-streaming or other disruptions on the House floor.

The move is a belated response to this summer’s 25-hour sit-in by Democrats protesting Republican inaction on gun-control legislation.

Under the proposed new rules package, which was seen by Bloomberg, members could face a $500 fine through deductions to their paychecks for a first offense of using electronic photography or audio or visual recording, as well as for broadcasting from the chamber’s floor.A $2,500 fine would be leveled for the next such offense and each subsequent violation.

The new rules also clarify which conduct is to be deemed disorderly or disruptive during floor proceedings, including blocking access by other members to microphones or what is known as “the well” — the front of the chamber.

Such action could lead to potential referral to the Committee on Ethics and sanctions against members, according to an accompanying section-by-section analysis of the new rules package.

“These changes will help ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work,” AshLee Strong, a spokesman for Ryan, said in an e-mailed statement.

There was no immediate comment on the Republican crack-down from a spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Commandeering the Well

Some Republicans were upset that Ryan and other leaders didn’t look for ways to punish Democrats, including civil rights icon, Representative John Lewis of Georgia, and Representative John Larson of Connecticut, involved in commandeering the well of the House chamber in June.

Democrats were upset that Republicans, who hold the majority, had not brought a gun-control bill to the floor following the mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, the deadliest in U.S. history. They wanted to vote on a “no-fly, no buy” bill and legislation to broaden background checks.

Rules that some Republicans said were violated during the action included Democrats using mobile phones on the floor to record their protest,as well as taking photographs. The Republican leaders had turned off the official cameras and declared a recess shortly after the protest started, but some Democrats got their protest out to the public by using live-streaming apps.

Garnishing Paychecks

The House Sergeant-at-Arms would establish procedures for enforcing the new rules and bans, and the Chief Administrative Officer would be authorized to deduct any fines from members’ salaries for violations.

Rank and file members from both parties can offer amendments to the proposed rules package before a final version is to be voted on Jan. 3 when the new congress, the 115th, officially convenes.

The new rules on floor decorum are located at the top of the 34-page bill, but the documents continues or makes changes to other rules as well.

One would reauthorize the quasi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which serves as an investigative clearinghouse for complaints of misconduct against lawmakers and staff and makes referrals to the ethics committee. It has been the target of anger from some lawmakers.

Obamacare Action

Other parts of the package include returning the chamber to the use of the so-called “Holman Rule” as a potential tool to reduce spending in some appropriations bills or amendments (mostly removed from use in 1983).

It would also allow the House to continue ignoring recommendations by the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board. That has been a strategy to nullify provisions in the Affordable Care Act. House Republicans have tried dozens of times in recent years to overturn the health care act, better known as Obamacare.

Proposed language offered by Ryan allies, which would have made it harder for rank-and-file lawmakers to force the removal of the House speaker, didn’t make it into the package.

To contact the reporter on this story: Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net.