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New House GOP Rules Impact Medals, Gavels — and Paul Ryan?

Ryan and other potential GOP House chairmen will have to seek a waiver if they want to keep their gavels while seeking another office. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans will operate the 114th Congress under essentially the same rules as the 113th — with two exceptions, including one that could have big implications for Rep. Paul D. Ryan.  

Republicans voted Friday on conference rules for the 114th, approving a proposal that would allow Congress to hand out more medals and one that would require committee chairmen running for other office to hand over their gavel.  

That proposal, from Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma, calls for chairmen — of committees, of subcommittees, ad hoc committees or joint committees — to step down if they run for another office. The other approved rules change, from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, allows for more than two Congressional Gold Medals per year to be handed out.  

Cole's amendment may seem like a shot at Ryan, the Budget chairman, but Cole told reporters his amendment allows for waivers from the Steering Committee. In fact, Cole said he explicitly mentioned Ryan's name as someone who could get a waiver.  

After the vote, Cole told CQ Roll Call that Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012, would be the "perfect example."  

"None of us would have wanted to remove him from his committee chairmanship," Cole said, though he noted that when he originally wrote the amendment, it didn't have the waiver exemption.  

"That was pointed out to me actually in discussions with the speaker's office, and I said, 'You know, that's a good point,'" the Oklahoma Republican said. "I just want the presumption being that if you're running for something else, that you give up your gavel."  

If Ryan gets the Ways and Means chairmanship, as expected, and then decides to seek the presidency, the change will introduce another step for him to take to retain his gavel.  

Whether that extra step would actually factor into a decision to run for the White House remains to be seen. In many ways, the rule change could offer the Wisconsin Republican a satisfying response to those members who believe it'd be unfair to give him the Ways and Means gavel if he ultimately plans to abandon the post.  

Both Cole's amendment and McCarthy's, which would also establish some new criteria for Congressional Gold Medals, were adopted on voice votes.  

The big rules change fight — and the only proposal to be voted on with a secret ballot — was a Mike D. Rogers amendment that would have reinstated earmarks for states, local governments or a "public utility or other public entity."  

The Alabama Republican argued the GOP-led House would be better at doling out earmarks than the president. Under current House rules, appropriations bills can include specific line-item spending projects as long as the president includes it in his budget. That has given the administration too much spending influence, Rogers said.  

"I do not believe most people trust how President Obama spends our tax dollars,” Rogers said in a statement after the vote. “This proposal would allow the conservative, Republican-controlled House to reassert its Constitutional authority over the Obama Administration and the spending decisions it is currently making.”  

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has been enemy No. 1 of congressional earmarks. He has long advocated against them, and he successfully pushed for their outright ban when he became speaker in the 112th Congress. Earlier this year, Boehner pledged at a press conference that, "As long as I'm speaker, there will be no earmarks."  

According to a GOP aide with knowledge of the vote, the proposal went down "handily."  

Members also voted down:

  • A proposal from Texas Republican Louie Gohmert that would have given all 31 members of the Republican Steering Committee one vote. Currently, the speaker gets five votes and the majority leader gets two.
  • A requirement from Florida Republican Ron DeSantis that would have made all GOP staff members subject to the Obamacare exchanges.
  • A proposal from Wisconsin Republican Reid Ribble to establish an overarching Committee on Health Care.
  • Ohio Republican Steve Stivers' call to require full committee chairmen to bring their nominations for subcommittee chairmen to the Steering Committee for approval. Members also voted down another Stivers amendment that would have made all committee slots open every Congress.
  • Indiana Republican Marlin Stutzman's proposal to limit chairmen to three terms — at the end of which those members would not be allowed to serve as chairman or ranking member of a different committee. (The proposal had a grandfather clause for current chairmen.)

Kentucky Republican Ed Whitfield withdrew an amendment that would have put an Energy and Commerce Committee member on the Budget Committee.  

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