House Practices “Schoolhouse Rock” Process

How A Bill Becomes A LawMy kids grew up with “Schoolhouse Rock”.  In the late seventies and early eighties kids were glued to the TV on Saturday mornings, watching animated video clips with clever rock lyrics and music.  For the most part they didn’t even notice that they were being educated on topics ranging from adverbs, to multiplication, to ‘how a bill becomes a law’.

What a concept!  Using music to entertain while gently educating!  (i.e. Rockin’ on the Right Side . . . )

I had pretty much forgotten about “Schoolhouse Rock” until several months ago when a number of conservative congressmen bemoaned House Speaker John Boehner’s autocratic management style. They missed the good old days. Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) said:

I have been frustrated that Congress has not been following regular order. By that I mean the constitutional/School House Rock process for passing legislation. A bill is drafted and then sent to a committee. The committee can make changes and then sends the bill to the House floor. The bill is amended some more and if it passes the House it goes to the Senate. The Senate may refer the House passed bill to one of its own committees and make changes. The bill passes out of committee and is sent to the Senate floor, likely to be amended further. Once the House and the Senate have passed their separate versions of the bill, a conference committee is created to work out the differences. The conference committee reports back, the House and Senate pass the agreed upon language and the bill is then sent to the President’s desk for his signature or veto. This process works in 49 of the 50 states and has served our country well for over 200 years.

The “Schoolhouse Rock” model was the ordinary legislative process until Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House in 1995.  Gingrich set up a system where every bill was rigidly defined by the House leadership with no amendments or refinements allowed.  Fueled with “K Street” dollars, Gingrich required Congressmen to toe the party line on every vote or risk losing committee assignments and re-election funds.  When Nancy Pelosi took over as Speaker, she adopted and enforced Gingrich’s method even more forcefully, and required members to meet fundraising quotas.  Her successor, John Boehner, promised to break the Pelosi stranglehold on the legislative process, but ultimately rode an even harder line.  Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell followed the new paradigm in the Senate:  No amendments.  No negotiations. Top-down authority on legislation with no input from members at all.

When enough congressmen had a gut full of Boehner’s “my way or the highway” style, a rebel group formed that ultimately took him out.  The Freedom Caucus set out to restore the “Schoolhouse Rock” model of legislative order, and ultimately succeeded when Boehner stepped down and Congressman Paul Ryan took over.

“We had more amendments processed in the first two weeks under Speaker Ryan than during Boehner’s entire speakership,” reported Representative Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) at a town hall meeting.

Boehner / McConnell’s inability or unwillingness to stop the Obama liberal steamroller has been intolerable to grassroots conservatives.  Now that the legislative shackles have been removed from our congressmen, there is hope that “Schoolhouse Rock” common sense will once again prevail in the House. The Senate, unfortunately, is still locked in McConnell’s autocratic Hell.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On The Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

I’m just a bill, yes, I’m only a bill,
And I got as far as Capitol Hill
Well, now I’m stuck in committee
And I’ll sit here and wait
While a few key Congressmen discuss and debate
Whether they should let me be a law
How I hope and pray that they will
But today I am still just a bill

Schoolhouse Rock – How A Bill Becomes A Law


One thought on “House Practices “Schoolhouse Rock” Process

  1. Good observations…and good education, Tom. While I appreciated Newt’s “Contract with America” I didn’t realize that he’d been so autocratic (and undemocratic) in running the House (or had forgotten). McConnell has also indicated that he’d return the Senate to “regular order” but I’m not sure what’s going on in terms of returning to “due process.”

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