Tyranny of extreme minority: House traditions allow just a handful to dictate agenda

The United States House of Representatives has several long-standing traditions that can give substantial power to small groups of representatives, allowing them to influence policy decisions and the legislative agenda. One such tradition is called the “Hastert Rule,” named for former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, which dictates that bills be brought to the floor for a vote only if the majority of the majority leadership party (in this case the Republicans) supports the measure. This rule allows the minority of a party, usually just a handful of representatives, to wield power out of proportion to their numbers and stymie efforts to bring bills to the floor for a vote. Another tradition is the “Motion to Recommit,” which allows members of the minority party to delay the vote on a bill by sending it back to committee for further review. This further delays the process, giving extra power to the minority. In addition, the majority party of the House typically assigns committee chairmanships to individuals who have earned the leadership’s trust, regardless of seniority. This allows members of the party considered loyal to the Speaker to have additional influence on policy decisions. These House traditions have been criticized for giving a small handful of legislators unwarranted power, and some have called for reforms to help ensure more voices are heard in the legislative process.

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