Whose Bill Is It Anyway?

Congressman Mike Rogers’s recent announcement that he will not seek reelection this November received a fair amount of news coverage. This is hardly surprising since he is the Chairman of the high-profile House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. While the media reported widely on the “succession race” for the chairman’s job, another consequential development barely received a mention.

On March 25, only three days before Chairman Rogers announced his retirement, the House Intelligence Committee introduced the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act of 2014. Overall, the bill follows the Obama Administration’s proposed reforms to the NSA’s controversial metadata collection and surveillance programs. The bill was touted as a bipartisan legislative effort and was quickly embraced by House Speaker John Boehner. All was well until the following day when the House Parliamentarian provided an early “parting gift” to Rep. Rogers by giving primary jurisdiction of the bill to the House Intelligence Committee.

This decision did not sit well with the House Judiciary Committee whose members quickly asserted jurisdiction over the matter. The swift rebuke by the Judiciary Committee brought some unwanted attention to the Office of the Parliamentarian whose main responsibility is to provide “the House with nonpartisan guidance on parliamentary rules and procedures.” The Parliamentarian is also responsible for referring bills to committee. It is quite rare for the House Parliamentarian to make headlines and probably just as well. (Think about it for a second; can you even name the current Parliamentarian? I will spare you the google search; it is Thomas J. Wickham Jr.)

The current jurisdictional row over the NSA reforms bill brings into focus the role that the Parliamentarian can exert over the course of the legislative process. Which committees are given jurisdiction can have significant consequences for how bills are shaped and what ultimately becomes the law of the land. Precisely because of that, committee jurisdiction is not a trivial subject matter and Members can be fiercely protective of their turf. This is probably one of the very few issues in Congress today that is embraced on a bipartisan basis.

Judiciary Committee Members are quite nervous right now as the momentum is clearly behind Rogers’s Intelligence Committee. They fear that the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act of 2014 will bypass the Judiciary committee altogether and be rushed to the floor for a vote before Rep. Rogers leaves Congress for his radio hosting gig. While this outcome is still far from determined, one can almost guarantee that Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) will expend a great deal of effort in trying to reassert his Committee’s jurisdictional authority over the matter. Stay tuned.

Katina Slavkova is a Fellow and Director of the Certificate Program at the Government Affairs Institute