From NBC's Shawna Thomas, Luke Russert and Mike Viqueira
As we all sit enthralled by the House Rules Committee hearing, we offer a primer. The Rules Committee considered to be an arm of the speaker's office, and is an instrument by which the majority, whether it be Republicans or Democrats, exercises control over the House process. As many of us are learning lately, if you control the process you control the substance.
Its job is to design a package of rules by which most legislation is considered on the floor. The duration of debate, how many amendments, which amendments, etc. That package is debated on the floor and then must be approved by means of a vote. If it passes, then the underlying legislation is taken up.
The partisan committee ratio of 9 to 4 is a belt and suspenders approach to making sure there is no funny business and that the majority party always gets it's way. The legislative geeks refer to the House as a "majoritarian" body. In the words of a famous speaker of the 1880's, the job of the minority in the House is to "make a quorum and to draw its pay." In other words, sit down and shut up.
Today, for example, we will see a parade of Republicans before the committee asking that their amendments be allowed for floor consideration tomorrow. They will be ignored and outvoted. There will be no amendments allowed on the floor tomorrow, save those that are absolutely necessary for democrats pass to health care reform. But we will get to see a lot of people letting off a lot of steam, which is also a function of your U.S. House.
Schoolhouse rock, this isn't.
As has also been noted, Republicans operated in the same way when they were running things. In fact, the Rules Committee has been this way since the 19th century, and its power and influence have increased since the time of Henry Clay. Today, assignment to the committee is considered a special perk to many members.
There are 91 amendments on the list. They are not all Republican amendments.