As House Republicans begin to debate changes to their internal rules this week, addressing waivers for committee chairmen — a flash point within the Conference — could already be off the table.
Republicans have not dealt with the festering issue during their reorganizations in the previous two Congresses when they were in the minority. Now that the GOP is preparing to assume the majority, leaders still don’t appear to be willing to make changes to the rules, at least not in the short term.
“In general, rules are not made to be broken,” one GOP aide said. “It is up to the Conference to decide the rules for the 112th Congress, and the Steering Committee — once constituted — to decide on chairmen and committee assignments for the 112th Congress.”
The aide said the Steering Committee would continue to grant waivers on a case-by-case basis.
Reps. Joe Barton (Texas) and Jerry Lewis (Calif.) are publicly lobbying to obtain waivers for the 112th Congress in order to lead the Energy and Commerce and Appropriations panels, respectively. However, several Members expected to chair powerful committees will need waivers to retain their gavels after the next Congress, which could force leadership to address the currently ambiguous rule at the end of 2012.
House Republicans must obtain a waiver from the GOP Steering Committee to serve as ranking member or chairman for more than three consecutive Congresses. But some Members contend that the rule needs clarification since the duties of a ranking member pale in comparison to those of a chairman.
Reps. Lamar Smith (Texas), John Mica (Fla.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.), presumptive chairmen of the Judiciary, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Budget committees, will all need waivers in two years if they want to continue in those posts.
Rep. Spencer Bachus (Ala.), who has served as the top Republican on Financial Services since 2006, will also need a waiver at the end of the next Congress if he is successful in his bid for chairman.
Bachus said he believes the waiver issue will eventually be dealt with. But he declined to discuss how and when the Conference should take up the issue. “I think that’s up to leadership,” Bachus said.
Presumptive Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told Members earlier this year the term-limit rule was unlikely to change in the current Congress.
One GOP lawmaker said the waiver issue is a frequent topic among Republicans on the floor but that no one is sure what route the Steering Committee will eventually take.
The Member said he supports the idea of term limits but there is an undeniable disparity between a ranking-member position and a chairmanship.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) predicted the Steering Committee would take up the issue of waivers when Congress returns from the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I don’t think they’ll change the rule for this term of appointing people to chairmen,” Simpson, a member of the Steering Committee for the 111th Congress, said. “They may grant waivers, but ultimately we have to look at this issue and I think it is something that Conference will take up later on in the year so two years from now we won’t have the same” debate.