Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) introduced a resolution (H. Res. 787) last Monday to elect McHenry to that elevated role with a sunset date of Nov. 17, or upon the election of a Speaker. The prospect of such a hybrid speakership, however, makes some members of both parties skittish — as if it would create an out-of-control Frankenstein monster who could wreak unmitigated pre-Halloween havoc.
It should be kept in mind, though, that the regular Speaker wears two hats, both as party leader and as the neutral presiding officer of the House. An elected Speaker Pro Tempore, on the other hand, would not be head of the majority party’s leadership and therefore could not determine its policy priorities or dictate through the Rules Committee what bills could be considered when, and under what amendment conditions.
Instead, the role would literally be confined to sitting in the Speaker’s chair and wielding a gavel to call the House to order, keep it orderly, refer bills to committees, and recognize members eligible to call-up legislation under the “order of business” rules of the House. Any rulings on points of order or questions of privilege would be based on well-established precedents after consulting with the parliamentarian.
There is an actual Bluegrass song titled “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” that may be an apt metaphor for what we are witnessing. The fog of internecine party warfare among House Republicans currently enshrouds Capitol Hill, preventing the movement of all legislative vehicles. It must be dissipated soon by the majority if Congress is to avoid driving the country off another fiscal cliff.