House Democrats pass new ethics rules, create new climate change panel

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Hours after taking control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010, Democrats on Thursday night approved a series of rules changes to force lawmakers – and not taxpayers – to pay any legal judgments against members concerning treatment of House employees, and sets up a special committee to examine issues related to climate change.

“This rules package will restore power to the American people,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, as Democrats swiftly tried to put their imprint on the 116th Congress, by making a series of reforms dealing with ethics, the budget process, making it easier to bring bipartisan legislation up for a votes – as well as take action related to the issue of global warming.

“We intend to press for urgent action in defense of America and our way of life,” said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), who has been named by new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to lead the special panel, as Democrats criticized Republicans for ignoring the issue during their eight years in charge of the House.

“We want to make clean energy a pillar of our economy,” Castor said.

In terms of ethics reforms under this package, the Democratic plan would not only require lawmakers to pay any judgments dealing with sexual harassment or sexual misconduct, but also any legal awards against them which touch on discrimination based on religion, race, sex, and other matters.

The plan also extends the ban on sexual relationships between lawmakers and House employees to those who serve on House committees.

New ethics rules would also require any lawmaker indicted or charged with a felony to step down from any leadership post and committees while those allegations are dealt with.

It would also require more speedy action by the House Ethics Committee to review such cases; the plan would directly impact two GOP lawmakers now under federal indictment, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) – who has been charged with misuse of over $250,000 in campaign funds – and Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), who is under indictment for insider trading.

Both Republicans have trials scheduled to start later this year; in the interim, they will not be allowed to sit on any House committees.

On the budget, the plan reinstates what’s known as the “PAYGO” rules – forcing Congress to pay-as-you-go for programs.

Democrats said it was necessary after the GOP didn’t come close to balancing the budget over the first two years of the Trump Administration.

“What the majority has presided over is record breaking deficits,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), as he blasted Republicans over spending, armed with new figures showing that the overall federal debt has gone up more than $2 trillion since President Trump took office in January of 2017.

Originally, the inclusion of the PAYGO rules had triggered outrage among some liberals, worried it would hamper any Democratic efforts on Medicare-for-all and other Democratic priorities. But in the end, only three Democrats voted against the plan, while three Republicans voted for it.

Most Republicans criticized one of the changes in the Democratic rules plan, which would allow the House to automatically raise the debt ceiling, without forcing a direct vote on the matter.

“The Democrat rules package is a step in the WRONG direction,” said Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI).

But for the first time in eight years, Republicans found themselves in a different position – in the minority – and unable to set the agenda in the House, as the rules package was agreed to on a vote of 234-197.