Secretive House Caucus Is Appointing Corporate Democrats to Key Committee Seats

How did the House of Representatives Democrats decide that the top House recipient of corporate PAC moneyshould head the tax code-writing group, or that the top recipient of defense industry cashIn their caucus, should they be in charge of Armed Services

There’s no way to know, because House Democrats have not made public the rules that govern its powerful Steering and Policy Committee, which nominates committee chairmen and the Democratic members of all committees besides Rules and Administration, which get chosen by the speaker. The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee has not released its members list.

The House Democrats’ 117th caucus rules, which were posted online this session after a lengthy campaign from government transparency activists, explains that the Steering and Policy Committee “shall adopt its own rules, which shall be in writing,” and that it “shall keep a journal of its proceedings.” Without the caucus releasing those records or someone with access making them available, these documents are inaccessible to the public because the legislative branch is exempt from federal public records law.

This secretive process was made public last year when Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), a New Democrat Coalition member, was elected to the Energy and Commerce Committee. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), was elected to replace her. News coverage described the secret meeting of Steering and Policy Committee in December last year. This involved intense speeches and secret votes. But details of the debate and the procedures that were used remain a mystery. Rice, in September, registered a vote in the Energy and Commerce Committee that stripped a popular drug pricing reform proposal from the committee’s portion of the Build Back Better Act.

House Republicans, which have separate policy and steering committees, are more transparent in their operations than previous generations. The Republican Policy Committee’s website lists its activities. members, and steering commission membersYou can also find them online. The Republican caucus Rules, which have been posted online for years each session without activist pressure from activists, do not direct policy and steering committees in crafting separate rules, unlike the Democrats.

Congress’ committees are the most common choke point for legislation in Congress, so the process for determining their membership and leadership is fundamental to the federal lawmaking process.

“Personnel are policy, and the Steering and Policy Committee is where House Democrats decide committee assignments for members of the caucus,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director of Demand Progress. “Choosing the composition of a House committee, or who can serve as its chair, is a powerful tool for the Speaker of the House, who dominates the Steering Committee and exerts control not only over policy outcomes but over the party itself. Because they are a set, the rules for the Steering and Policy Committee and its members list should be made public. de facto rules of the House when Democrats are in charge.”

The Steering and Policy Committee has broad policy authority in the Democratic caucus rules. The committee “shall assist the full Democratic Caucus in the establishment and implementation of a Democratic policy agenda and legislative priorities,” the rules state. It should also “coordinate policy development and implementation, and message coordination efforts between the Caucus, the whip organization, Members of standing committees, and other Caucus entities,” as well as “supplement ongoing policy development by the Chairs of each of the standing committees,” according to the caucus rules.

The Steering and Policy Committee roster is not public. However, the caucus rules say that it is made up of several party leaders and committee chairmen, as well one freshman member and 12 members to be elected in different geographical regions and up to 15 members that can be appointed by the speaker. Partially leaked membership lists can be found, but Democratic Party leaders still resist good government groups’ calls to simply post the roster online.

Rep. Katie Porter (D.Calif.), a banking industry critic, was forced to resign her seat on House Financial Services Committee. The Steering and Policy Committee decided not to issue a waiver that would have allowed Porter to hold seats on the Oversight and Reform and Natural Resources Committees. The decision was seen as a boon for the financial industry, whose officials would no longer have to testify in front of Porter’s whiteboard and news cameras.