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House GOP Considers ‘Poison Pill’ Remedy

Move would block the kind of amendments that sank a bill last month

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, right, seen here with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, has previously said he supports a more open amendment process. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, right, seen here with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, has previously said he supports a more open amendment process. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Republican leadership has suggested limiting “poison pill” amendments on appropriations bills by using structured rules for spending measures, and for now at least, most members seem to agree with the approach.  

On the first two appropriations bills the House brought to the floor under open rules in late May, members were allowed to submit amendments as the bills were being debated. That led to an amendment frenzy and the failure of the bill funding water and energy projects.  


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Paul D. Ryan was elected House speaker in October under calls for a more open amendment process, and Ryan has largely delivered on that. But after the energy and water bill’s failure, many members acknowledged the need to revisit the decision to leave spending bills open.  

During a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday, Ryan said he’s heard from members who want to use the Rules Committee to the majority’s advantage and ensure Democrats can’t use the amendment process to derail bills, according to a source present at the meeting.   

The most obvious path to accomplishing that goal is using a structured rule to try to weed out poison pill amendments, Ryan told the members before asking for their feedback.  


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Ryan said he wanted to have a thorough debate on as many amendments as possible even if members decide they want to move to a more structured process, the source said.  

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores of Texas. “If the Democrats are going to try to play politics to hurt the appropriations process, then we need to use the power of the majority to do the right thing for the American people.”  


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However, not all Republicans believe they should be moving away from an open process.  

“This is a deliberative body. People come here from different districts, different parties, and we hold votes and the outcome represents the will of the American people,” said Michigan Rep. Justin Amash.   

Republicans say the move would be designed to prevent votes on amendments like the one New York Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney offered on two bills last month. Maloney’s amendment , which would prevent federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, was defeated on a military construction and veterans affairs measure but adopted on the energy and water bill .   

A majority of Republicans later voted against the energy and water bill, with many citing the Maloney amendment as the reason for their opposition.  


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Republicans have argued that the Maloney amendment was a “poison pill” by Democrats because they pushed for the amendment to be adopted but didn’t support the overall measure.  

“They put an amendment in there that forced many Republicans to vote against the bill and then they voted against it,” Louisiana Rep. John Fleming said. “Their motivation clearly was not to pass the amendment. Their motivation was to kill the bill. And what that does [is] it forces us at the end of the year to have a [continuing resolution] or an omnibus bill. And that’s what we’re fighting to avoid.”  


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Democrats cited a variety of reasons for voting against the energy and water bill, including a separate amendment offered by North Carolina GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger in support of the North Carolina law preventing transgender people from using the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity.   

Maloney has offered his amendment again on the legislative branch spending bill, which the Rules Committee is considering Wednesday. Based on Republicans’ discussion, it appears Maloney’s amendment will not be made in order on the legislative branch bill or any other spending measures.   


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Whether Republicans will deem some of their own amendments “poison pills” remains to be seen.   

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan said the conservative group had a good discussion about the structured rule proposal during their meeting Tuesday but did not take a formal position on it. “We’ll see how it works,” the Ohio Republican said.   

Asked if the idea goes against Ryan’s pledge to open up the process, Jordan said, “I am not so worried about that. What I’m concerned about is conservative Republican amendments are made in order.”  


Ryan Talks Up Return to Regular Order


Some Freedom Caucus members, like Amash, and other conservatives who aren’t part of that group, including Florida Rep. Daniel Webster, say it’s important to stick to regular order and an open process.   

Webster, who said he “absolutely” favors open amendments, challenged Ryan for speaker in October. He was running prior to Ryan’s entrance into the race on a pledge to restore regular order and give members more input into crafting legislation, but he lacked the widespread support Ryan had among the conference.   


Daniel Webster Presses Nuanced Case for Speaker


Asked whether Ryan is abandoning the pledge he was elected on, Webster said, “Well I think he feels like he’s in a box, [saying], ‘I want to do that. I tried to do that. I can’t do that. There’s no way forward except this.’”   

Webster said he believes there is a way forward. “But I don’t want to get into that,” he added. “That’s a long story.”  

Contact McPherson at and follow her on Twitter @lindsemcpherson

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