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House GOP Steering Proposal Could Deliver Results — Or Not

Ryan speaks Tuesday before signing the NDAA at the Capitol. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

When Speaker Paul D. Ryan facilitates a vote Thursday to reconfigure the Steering Committee, he will win points for delivering on his promise to expand member participation in the House Republican Conference.  

But, despite currying favor with conservatives who want Ryan to give them a louder voice in leadership, not everyone is convinced the gesture will yield substantive results. "Some people think it’s going to change the world," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a close ally of former Speaker John A. Boehner. "It’s not. It’s not going to change who gets on committees. It’s not going to change any of that kind of stuff."  

The plan touted by Ryan and a seven-member task force would boot six committee chairmen from the Steering Committee, which assigns members to the standing panels of the House: Pete Sessions of Rules, Jeb Hensarling of Financial Services, Kevin Brady of Ways and Means, Tom Price of Budget, Harold Rogers of Appropriations and Fred Upton of Energy and Commerce.  

These chairmen would be replaced during this Congress by six "at-large" members elected from anywhere in the conference. By the end of next year, leadership will have added six new regional representatives to the existing 13 on Steering to boost geographic diversity; they will replace the at-large members going forward.  

Conservatives are thrilled, particularly those in the House Freedom Caucus.  

"I think it’s moving in the right direction, so I’m generally pleased,” HFC Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said.  

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said the group should get credit for pushing leadership to make the conference more inclusive, even if it meant weakening the HFC's 40-odd member clout.  

Another HFC member, Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis, R-Wyo., gushed that she was so thrilled with the developments it was part of the reason she was ready to retire at the end of 2016.  

Elsewhere in the House Republican Conference, reactions to the plan Tuesday ran the gamut from amused indifference to good-natured shrugs — a sign many members are skeptical these changes will actually make a difference.  

"I think people feel a lot better about it," said Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., "so anything that brings that about is a win."  

"Frankly, I don’t think the new committee will come to decisions that are materially different than what the old committee did," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "If this makes people feel more included, I’m fine with it. No problem whatsoever."  

Cole is losing his Steering seat, which he received as the most recent former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee not already on the panel. He will be replaced by Sessions, who chaired the NRCC for two cycles after Cole and was set to lose the seat reserved for the Rules chairman.  

"Not really," Cole said when asked whether he minded having to give up his slot. "I might run for an at-large seat, but there will be a lot of people running."  

While Sessions is the only one of the six chairmen who can stick around on Steering thanks to previously leading the House GOP campaign arm, the proposal does allow almost every chairman a temporary seat on the committee when there is a vote to assign new members to his or her panel. That would not apply to the chairman of the Rules Committee, whose membership is filled by appointment of the speaker.  

Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, was excited to be included in future decision-making.  

"I’ll be in the room when members are being put on the Ag Committee, and I’ll have a voice I didn’t have in the past," he said.  

Brady, the newly minted Ways and Means chairman, won't get a chance to hold a position his predecessor Ryan enjoyed.  

In an interview, Brady was complimentary of the proposal, but when asked if his praise meant he didn't mind losing the seat he just earned, Brady laughed, "I didn't say that!"  

Simpson said Brady's chairmanship was proof Ryan will continue to wield power on the Steering Committee. The new speaker used his influence and five votes to push the election in Brady's favor.  

Still, Rep. Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., said the changes could have an adverse affect.  

"I advocate caution from the membership," Lucas said. "It looks like it would be a shift away from the experienced chairman. ... I don’t think everyone has talked through all the consequences of what’s proposed."  

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.