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GOP Frets Again Over Committee Term Limits

While their leaders have discouraged House Republicans from publicly talking about a GOP takeover in November, some senior Members are already lobbying for the party to relax its term limits for Members in top committee positions.

After the Republican takeover in 1994, the party established six-year term limits for committee chairmen, a policy that Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said earlier this year he intends to uphold.

Only two members of the Republican Conference will reach their term limits this year, but others with a term or two as ranking members under their belts who sense the GOP could return to power soon also have an interest in seeing the rule changed.

Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he is in favor of granting term limit waivers under special circumstances.

While the California Republican has another four years before he would be term-limited, he said he would want to have the opportunity to make the case for a waiver to extend his tenure.

“I side with John Boehner’s approach. This should be a broad decision of the Conference, where a waiver is applied for and is considered to be meritorious for specific reasons,” Issa said. “If in four years I made an application, I would at least want to be able to be considered. But acceptance should be rare.”

Issa suggested that a Member who has had only a ranking member position should have a chance to extend his tenure once becoming chairman.

Members concerned about obtaining waivers have already started charm offensives to secure votes on the House Republican Steering Committee.

Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), a member of the Steering Committee, said that while leadership hasn’t had any recent conversations about how they will deal with waivers next Congress, several Members have individually approached her.

“People start thinking seriously about opportunities to get on the ‘A’ committee or to change committees, and they are talking to members and it’s important that they do,” McMorris Rodgers said.

Still, McMorris Rodgers said she is waiting to support individual Members until after the elections.

Other rank-and-file Members, such as Rep. Jeff Flake, say the party should avoid waivers.

“As a general rule, we ought to stick with the program,” the Arizona Republican said. “But we’ve already granted waivers in the past, so it’s inconsistent now to say no. I think it should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

The internal discussion over the term limit rule is not new.

The rule, implemented under the “Contract With America” in 1995 partially as a reaction to the power wielded by long-serving Democratic chairmen, has long been unpopular with some Members.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) offered a proposal to remove the six-year limits in 2000, the first year the term restrictions applied.

Her amendment was defeated by the Republican Conference on a 141-27 vote.

One Member said that if the issue of term limits is not opened up for debate within the Conference, it will come up year after year.

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