GOP Term Limits Here to Stay

Posted February 3, 2010 at 6:28pm

House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) Wednesday announcement that term limits for top Republicans on committees would remain in place was met with some grumbling from senior Members fearing they may never become chairmen if they take back the House.

During a closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference on Wednesday morning, Boehner told Members that the Steering Committee had recently debated the issue of term limits after several Members had requested a repeal of the Conference rule limiting ranking members to three terms.

Boehner said the panel ultimately decided the rule would stay in place and told Members to “plan accordingly,” but he added that some committee leaders could see their terms extended in “extraordinary” circumstances.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee before his party lost the majority in 2006, said the rules should allow him to have that position back if Republicans regain control of the House next year.

“I don’t think the rule was ever intended to be a strict rule on ranking members, and I certainly don’t think it was envisioned to be consecutive between chairman and ranking members,” he told Roll Call on Wednesday. “A chairman has real authority. You set the agenda; you work with majority leadership [and] hopefully work with the president. Ranking member is a reactive, defensive position and not at all a position to be setting any kind of agenda.”

Barton said he wasn’t against term limits across the board but said the rule should be clarified.

“It ought to be more flexible because I do think the people that continue to work and continue to fight in the minority should be rewarded if they’ve done a good job in the majority,” Barton said.

He added, “I personally don’t see much of a need for term limits for ranking members, but if you are going to have one it should be longer than three terms.”

While Barton and Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, are the only two ranking members who stand to lose their position next year as a result of term limits, other Members agreed that the rule might need to be adjusted.

Lewis was not available for comment.

“If you are out there in the wilderness and you are doing the dirty work for six years and suddenly, maybe in part because of your efforts, they take over the House and you can’t become chairman, that is really tough,” said one Member, who requested anonymity.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, said some considerations should be made for ranking members who have worked hard.

“There is no one who thinks that serving as ranking member is the equivalent of serving as a chairman of a committee,” Smith said. “There is a process to go beyond the term limits; they are not absolute. And I think it’s clear that there will be some exceptions to the rule [that] are going to be necessary.”

Republicans adopted the term limits after their 1995 takeover as a part of the “Contract With America,” partially as a reaction to the power wielded by long-serving Democratic chairmen.

The rule remained in place when Democrats took over the House in 2007. It was stripped from the House rules in 2009 because Democrats argued the rule allowed the gavels to be auctioned off to the most prolific fundraisers.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he supported the term limits but predicted the matter would be addressed again should Republicans regain control of the Congress in 2010.

“It’s something that we impose that keeps the power limited,” Mica said. “I’ve always found in these races that there are more people that want these limits because they want a shot at it.”

But one GOP aide cautioned against ranking members and those in line behind them getting ahead of themselves in eyeing chairmanships.

“Why are we talking about this now?” said one House GOP aide. “There are a lot of dynamics that could change between now and [November],” and the issue will only become critical if Republicans manage to retake the House.