Rules Panel Offers Training Seminars

Posted January 18, 2008 at 6:29pm

Getting a bill passed is difficult, and not just because of the partisanship that permeates Capitol Hill. There’s the drafting, the committees, the rules, the voting, the conferences, the motions. It’s a unique and complex process that can confuse some of the very people tasked with navigating it.

The House Rules Committee believes it has hit upon a solution: a program that teaches Members and staffers about the legislative process from the beginning.

“We’re putting the Rules Committee out there as a tool,” said Frank Benenati, spokesman for Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.). “The chairwoman and other committee members want to go above and beyond to help people with anything they might need.”

Last Monday was the first session. About 75 chiefs of staff, legislative aides and other staffers listened to Congressional Research Service specialist Walter Oleszek give an overview of the program and the informational resources available in the House. About 100 more were turned away because there wasn’t enough room, Benenati said.

One legislative assistant said she went to brush up on floor procedures. Several tactics are now being more widely used, she said, such as motions to recommit and shuttling. It’s “hard to get a handle on all of it,” she said, and the classes seem like a good way to start.

“Some of the stuff you just pick up,” said the aide, who asked not to be named because she is not authorized to talk to the press. “Some stuff, it’s helpful to have someone at least give more background on more things that can be done.”

The program isn’t new — the Republican-led Rules Committee organized something similar in 2006. But Benenati said the committee is hoping to expand on that, offering two sessions a month through October. Speakers will come from CRS and the Office of the House Parliamentarian, depending on the subject matter.

“[In 2007] we were trying to get our feet underneath us, being in the new majority,” Benenati said. “Now we’ve come into our own as a committee and are ready to offer programs and are excited about the opportunity.”

The program will cover four main topics throughout the year: “Drafting, Introduction and Bill Referral”; “The Committee System and the Federal Budget Process”; “House Floor Procedure and Rules”; and “The Senate, the Executive Branch and Congressional Oversight.”

Some classes will be lectures, while others will have mock hearings, markups and floor sessions, with topics ranging from “The Budget Process” to “Resolving Differences with the Senate.” Most of the speakers haven’t yet been announced, but the schedule will be updated on the Rules Web site. The next session is on Jan. 28 in HC-5 and focuses on the organization of the House.