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LEGISLATIVE PROCESS 101—Special Rule “MIRV”

The House Rules Committee has the unique authority of setting the “terms and conditions of debate” for consideration of a measure by writing the rules package at the start of each Congress. The House must pass this package reported by the Rules Committee in the form of a resolution before any legislation can be considered for that Congress.

Most of these rules are relatively non-controversial, like how Congress will keep records or how Members of Congress (MoC) can use their office funds. However, House leadership often holds control over powerful rules determining how long a measure will be considered in committee or how many amendments, if any, will be allowed to be introduced on a specific bill. These types of rules are called “Special Rules,” which often accompany bills that have been introduced.

What is the special rule in the House called “M.I.R.V?”

M.I.R.V is an acronym for “Multiple-Impact Reentry Vehicles” used to describe the House special rule, which allows two or more individually passed bills to be combined into one legislative vehicle (without a vote on the final package), before being sent to the Senate. This type of rule is also commonly referred to as a bifurcated rule.

The process allows for different coalitions of members to vote for or against individual measures, while still allowing leadership to successfully move an entire package to the Senate to be voted on.

Has the House done this before?

Yes, this practice has increased significantly in recent years. Some examples include Speaker Pelosi combining the final 2020 COVID Relief Package with the government funding package before sending for a vote in the Senate at the end of December 2020.

Why would using M.I.R.V. be beneficial for leadership?

It allows leadership to make compromises with the different factions of their party or sometimes across party lines in order to pass legislation. For example, in the 106th Congress, Republicans controlled the majority in both the House and Senate. At the time, raising the minimum wage was a key priority of almost all Democrats and a bloc of moderate Republicans—in districts where organized labor presence was strong.

GOP leadership understood the importance of acting on the minimum wage, while still in power, due to fear of negative electoral outcomes for the vulnerable moderates in their party. And they couldn’t risk Democrats successfully convincing the bloc of moderates Republicans to join in voting for their own wage increase bill.

So, GOP leadership directed the Rules Committee to draft the special rule to first allow consideration of a Republican bill to provide $122 billion in tax breaks for the rich over 10 years, prohibiting any amendments (a closed-rule). The rule then allowed consideration of the federal minimum wage increase bill, under which debate was limited and two amendments were passed. Once the house had passed both bills individually, they were combined before being sent to the Senate.1

Generally, the M.I.R.V rule is a useful tool for the Majority to make concessions with a substantial bloc of their party (whether moderate, conservative, or progressive) in order to pass leadership’s overall legislative agenda.

 

1Oleszek, Walter J.,Oleszek, Mark J.,Rybicki, Elizabeth E.,Heniff, William Alan, Jr.. Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process (pp. 179-180). SAGE Publications.