Rep. Diane Black may have to step down as Budget Committee chairwoman now that the Tennessee Republican is running for governor of her home state, but who will want to take the gavel of a panel whose primary work product has run into major roadblocks for two years in a row?
Black, the first woman to chair the Budget Committee, has only held the gavel for eight months. She replaced Tom Price, the Georgia Republican who was chairman for just two years before President Donald Trump tapped him to be his Health and Human Services secretary.
Per House Republican Conference rules, a committee chair who publicly announces plans to run for another office must resign the chairmanship. Black announced her intention to run for governor Wednesday.
With the House in recess until after Labor Day, it appears Black may not have to immediately step down, as her resignation from the Budget Committee would likely have to be read on the floor to take effect.
This provides her time to continue whipping support for the fiscal 2018 budget resolution, which GOP leaders would like to put on the floor in September if they can get the needed 218 votes.
“She will remain chairman for the time being and is focused on getting this budget across the finish line,” Budget Committee spokesman Will Allison said.
Ultimately, Black could seek a waiver from the Republican Steering Committee, which oversees committee assignments, if she decides she wants to stay on as chairwoman while running for governor.
If Black does resign, conference rules say the next highest ranking Republican on the panel, which in this case is Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita, serves as acting chairman until the Steering Committee picks a replacement.
But Rokita himself is expected to soon announce plans to run for Senate, joining fellow Indiana Rep. Luke Messer in a Republican primary.
No members have formally announced plans to seek the Budget chairmanship yet but interested candidates have likely been informally talking to colleagues for weeks, as Black’s announcement was expected.
The next six most senior GOP members on the Budget Committee are Florida’s Mario Diaz-Balart, Oklahoma’s Tom Cole, California’s Tom McClintock, Georgia’s Rob Woodall, South Carolina’s Mark Sanford and Arkansas’ Steve Womack.
A Diaz-Balart spokeswoman said Wednesday he is not seeking the chairmanship.
An aide to Cole said Wednesday that the congressman is “fully engaged in his responsibilities as Chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations subcommittee. He has no plans to seek any other position at this time.”
When the job came open last year, McClintock said he was interested in the chairmanship. His office did not return a request for comment Wednesday.
A Womack aide said the Arkansas congressman would possibly be interested in pursuing the chairmanship if an opening officially becomes available.
Woodall told Roll Call that Black should be granted a waiver.
“Republican Conference Rules don’t allow a Member to seek higher office and remain as chairman, but if there was ever a case to be made for a waiver, Diane would be it, and I would support it,” the Georgia Republican said in a statement. “Chairwoman Black has been tireless in her pursuit of the FY2018 budget, and I remain committed to standing with her until it’s done.”
Sanford’s office did not return requests for comment.
Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, who is less senior but very active on budget issues, said he was open to a bid for the gavel, when asked if he was interested or if there was another member he supported.
“If my colleagues think that having a PhD in economics as chair of the Budget Committee would be good for the country, I would be happy to serve,” Brat, a member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus and a former economics professor, said in an email.
Brat’s reference to his colleagues’ support is key. The Steering Committee, which is stacked with leadership and allied members, might be unlikely to support his candidacy given that he’s been a frequent thorn in GOP leadership’s side. Former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan opted against a bid for the Oversight and Government Reform chairmanship in June because he didn’t like his chances before the Steering Committee.
Another less senior Budget member, Ohio Rep. Bill Johnson, also seems intrigued by the chairmanship.
“I’m always looking for ways to more effectively serve those I represent in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio,” he said in a statement. “Developing a responsible budget is foundational to ensuring an efficient and effective federal government. The House Budget Committee plays a critical role in the budgeting process, helping to shape America’s spending priorities — now more than ever, given the $20 trillion national debt. So, this is something I’m looking at very closely.”
The Budget Committee helped Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who held the gavel for four years before Price, rise to prominence.
But the chairmanship may not be as attractive now as it has been in previous years. While the Budget Committee has reported out a budget resolution every fiscal year, the full House did not vote on the committee-passed product last year and has yet to vote on the fiscal 2018 resolution the committee’s Republicans unanimously approved a few weeks ago.
In January, the House adopted a “shell” fiscal 2017 budget resolution that was used as an instrument to later pass a House bill that aimed to partially repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.
Last year, Price’s budget was tanked amid controversy over a topline spending number, with conservatives balking at leadership’s decision to adhere to budget deal numbers former Speaker John A. Boehner brokered before leaving office.
This year, Black’s budget remains stalled, primarily amid disagreements over a reconciliation instruction that calls for $203 billion in mandatory spending cuts. Many conservatives want that number to be set higher and several moderates feel the instruction, as a whole, is jeopardizing the chances for a tax overhaul, which is also expected to move under the reconciliation process.
Whoever succeeds Black on the Budget Committee now, should she resign as chairwoman, will have the difficult job of helping leadership whip votes for the budget resolution and trying to broker a perhaps unreachable compromise. And if past is prologue, the next few years of budgeting won’t be any easier.
Ryan McCrimmon contributed to this report.