The Paul Ryan Dilemma

The inside baseball that goes on within Congress is of little import to the casual observer of politics; one can care a great deal about policy ideas that spill forth from Congress without having any idea about the rules and constraints that govern the committee and subcommittee processes within the House. 

But rising star Paul Ryan—whom many here on Ricochet argue should not be considered for the position of VP candidate because we need him exactly where he is—is about to butt into Republican-imposed constraints that would make it impossible for him to stay exactly where he is. Jonathan Strong at Roll Call explains:

Republican chairmanship term limits are bringing a dilemma for the party in the next Congress: whether to break the rules for a promising intellectual leader of the party while denying his ambitious colleagues the same opportunity.

Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, is term-limited at the end of this Congress, having ascended to the ranking member position on the panel in 2006. Republicans count time served as chairman and ranking member toward term limits.

GOP officials and aides said they expect significant pressure for the Steering Committee to grant Ryan, the public face of House Republicans on budget and economic issues, a waiver from the six-year term limits rule, allowing him to stay on.

That’s especially so because there’s no other obvious place for the Wisconsin Republican to ascend to in the House.

There are a few things to know about these committee chairmanship term limits: First, they were instituted by Speaker Gingrich during the 104th Congress as a way to wrest away power from committee and subcommittee chairs by limiting their independence and weakening the seniority system in the House. These term limits gave the Speaker additional influence in the committee assignment and chair selection process, and at the time, the imposition of these term limits was an essential ingredient in getting Gingrich’s Contract through Congress.

Second, there is a way around the term limits — the Steering Committee and the House Leadership can grant waivers to individual chairmen. But history shows that Republican leadership has been loath to grant waivers to applicants.

As I say, inside baseball. But it’s a dilemma which could affect whether Paul Ryan can continue to be influential from the House.