House establishes select committee on modernizing Congress; Kilmer named chairman

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Taking its first bipartisan vote of the 116th Congress, the House voted Friday to establish a select committee to come up with recommendations for modernizing the legislative branch.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Friday that Washington 6th District Rep. Derek Kilmer will chair the select panel. Kilmer is also the new chair of the centrist New Democrat Coalition.

“Congressman Kilmer is an innovator and a pioneer, who has worked relentlessly to make the House more transparent and more responsive to the voices of Members and the American people,” Pelosi said in a statement. “His commitment to bipartisanship in the Congress will be vital to this Committee’s work to modernize our institution.”

The 418-12 bipartisan vote was even more significant because it is part of the House Democrats’ rules package. House rules are crafted by the majority party, and they rarely draw votes from the minority.

But since Friday’s vote on Title II of the rules package was just about establishing the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress — as it will be called — it was a noncontroversial aspect of Democrats’ rules package that most Republicans could support.

Three Republicans also voted Thursday to support Title I of the rules package, which encompassed the vast majority of Democrats’ rules changes. The Republicans backed the package because it included provisions to foster bipartisan legislating they helped push for.

The House will complete consideration of the rules package on Wednesday by voting on Title III. The provision would authorize the general counsel on behalf of the speaker to intervene in the Texas v. United States lawsuit, to defend the constitutionality of the 2010 health care law and ensure that protections for pre-existing conditions continue.

The select committee, which won’t have legislative authority, will be tasked with holding public hearings and studying options for modernizing Congress. Those include changes in congressional rules, procedures and schedules.

The panel will also look at “policies to develop the next generation of leaders; staff recruitment, diversity, retention, and compensation and benefits; administrative efficiencies, including purchasing, travel, outside services, and shared administrative staff; technology and innovation; and the work of the House Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards,” according to the text of the rules package.

Every 90 days the committee will be required to provide an interim status report to the House Administration and Rules Committees. A final report to be submitted to the full House is due at the end of the first session of the 116th Congress.

The reports must be approved by two-thirds of the 12 select committee members.

The speaker and the minority leader get to each appoint six members, including at least two each from the Administration and Rules panels. The party leaders must also select at least two freshmen members to serve on the panel.

The select committee will formally terminate on Feb. 1, 2020.