The House Republican conference has gone again where no party conference has gone before and published the rules under which it operates for the 113th Congress on its website… and as an iBook. The House Republicans had previous published their conference rules for the 112th Congress. By contrast, the House Democratic Caucus, the Senate Republican Conference, and the Senate Democratic Caucus do not make their rules available to the public.
Why does this matter? For starters, important parts of the way the House and Senate is run is decided by each political party and is not included in the chamber rules. Because of the release of these documents, we can see how the House Republican Conference rules determine how long a person can chair a congressional committee and how members of committees are chosen, who decides how internal funds for staff are allocated, and control what will happen in the wake of a scandal. The rules also provide guidelines on what kind of legislation the Republican leadership will allow to come to the floor, and even prohibit the use of earmarks. This is important stuff.
What rules govern Senate Republicans or Democrats in either chamber? Where are they? While we have seen news coverage of some of the rules changes, I’m not aware of them being available to the public anywhere. The closest to public access that I’ve seen is this compilation of the minutes for the Senate Democratic Caucus and the Senate Republican Conference, each edited by Senate Historian Don Ritchie and terminating in 1964. (Perhaps others wiser or more devious than I am have seen a public version of the rules themselves. Via NCSL, here’s how state caucuses handle the matter.)
It’s time to make the caucus and conference rules available to the public. On this issue, the House Republicans are leading the way. They’ve even adopted a rule in their rules requiring public access to their rules. They should have some company.