How the GOP Should Handle Committee Chair Term Limits

Three former House GOP committee chairs are voicing support for changing the rules on term limits.

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Texas Republican Joe Barton continues to make a strong pitch for the leadership of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The primary stumbling block to his regaining the gavel is a term limit on committee chairmanships the GOP put in place as part of the way it reformed Congress after it won the majority in 1994.

[See where Barton gets his campaign money.]

At the time, the general thinking was that in order to put an end to empire-building on any one committee--something that had become common during the previous 40 years of Democratic control of the House--no member could serve as chairman for more than six years, a move that was popular with the rank and file.

The problem for Barton in particular is that he held the gavel for two years and then served for four as ranking member--which, while important, is not exactly the same thing as being chairman.

Applying the term limit to ranking members is, in my judgment, a bad idea. It’s a disincentive for ranking members to do the hard work necessary to become chairman if the rule--as some are currently interpreting it--means they don’t get to be chairman because they’ve already had their time in the senior-most spot available--even if part of that time was already spent as chairman.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on the GOP.]

It should be an easy call, even if seniority is no longer the sole standard by which chairmanships should be determined. Barring other extraneous circumstances, the people in the GOP House leadership who make the decision about who gets to be chairman should not count time in service as a ranking member against the candidates for the job.

Supporting this position are three former House GOP committee chairs--Rep. Don Young and former Reps. Bill Archer and Bud Shuster--who, Politico reported Thursday, penned a letter to the members of GOP Majority Transition Team , saying “nothing in the rule bars the Republican leader and/or the Steering Committee from simply clarifying the reality that service as a ranking member simply does not equal service as chairman.”

[See which industries donate the most to Young.]

“Based on our own experience,” the three Republicans--who spent years as committee ranking members before the GOP won the majority in 1994--wrote, “and what we believe is in the best interests of the Republican Party and the country, we strongly recommend that years spent as a ranking member should not be counted against years of service as chairman of a committee.”

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