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Ryan Faces Political Test on Steering Panel Overhaul

Ryan at his first solo news conference. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Paul D. Ryan passed his legislative test on the highway bill, but now he faces a more complicated political trial: making good on his promise to change internal GOP rules in a way that can unite the conference.  

Before heading home for the Thanksgiving recess, the Wisconsin Republican and a seven-member task force will present their plan for restructuring the panel that recommends committee appointments to the GOP conference for its approval. House floor time could be taken up by highways and financial services legislation.  

Republicans called for several rules changes during the speaker election, and Ryan’s ability to deliver a Steering Committee proposal that members can accept will set the tone for discussions on other changes.  

Some members have argued that the Steering Committee is stacked with leadership allies and that its membership should be changed to be more inclusive and representative of the broader conference. The 33-member panel currently includes elected leadership, regional representatives, members from recent congressional classes and the chairmen of the Appropriations, Budget, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Rules and Ways and Means committees.  

The task force’s plan, according to sources familiar with the discussions, is to begin the restructuring this year by booting off the six chairmen and replacing five of them with members elected by the GOP Conference. The sixth seat would be rotated among committee chairmen, with each getting the opportunity to serve when the Steering Committee is voting to appoint new members to his or her panel.  

While likely to please some of the rank and file, the proposal could upset the chairmen who are slated to lose their permanent seats. However, it helps that most of them are Ryan’s allies. The task force plans to propose adding more regional representatives to the panel sometime next year, the sources said.  

It’s unclear if the task force’s proposal would address what many members see as the biggest problem with the current Steering Committee: the speaker’s five votes. With more votes than any other member and the natural influence that comes with being in charge, the speaker has been able to control the outcome of many of the Steering Committee’s decisions.  

If Ryan is not willing to relinquish some of his five votes, it’s not likely to go over well, regardless of what other changes the task force may propose.  

Some of the main voices of opposition to the speaker’s power over the Steering Committee have been House Freedom Caucus members. The group was instrumental in forcing Speaker John A. Boehner to resign and prompting Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to drop out of the race.  

The House Freedom Caucus will hold its own leadership elections Monday, but it’s expected to be far less contentious than the speaker’s election. Ohio Republican Jim Jordan is expected to be re-elected as chairman of the conservative group.  

The group will also vote on whether to re-elect three board members. Nine board members serve staggered three-year terms.  

The nine Republicans on the board are Jordan, Justin Amash of Michigan, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Matt Salmon of Arizona and John Fleming of Louisiana.  

The 39-member Freedom Caucus is an influential voting bloc when it comes to legislation that is unlikely to garner Democratic support. But with Ryan pledging to adhere to the so-called Hastert rule and ensure all major bills coming to the House floor have the support of the majority of Republicans, he’ll want to appeal to the Freedom Caucus on bipartisan matters such as government spending negotiations.  

House appropriators are also beginning to solicit feedback from Republicans on what they’d like to see in an omnibus appropriations bill. Separate listening sessions will be held Nov. 17-19 on the six spending bills the House did not pass earlier this year.  

The members-only sessions are only an hour long, so they provide limited opportunity for feedback on the wide-ranging spending measures, especially the Financial Services bill that includes government-wide provisions and many partisan riders.  

The conference will likely need to hold additional meetings to get members on the same page, but the listening sessions will at least give leadership an opportunity to identify any sticking points that could spoil negotiations down the line.  

Emma Dumain and Karin Fuog contributed to this report.

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