New Republican rule complicates Rep. Paul Ryan’s future

New House Republican Conference rules prevent members seeking higher office to hold committee and subcommittee chairs. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said, the “idea is not to have major committees, appropriations or subcommittees chaired by people who are running for the Senate. If you’re shuttling back and forth, that’s just a huge problem for us.”

My colleague Mark Harkins argued this rule was likely the product of Rep. Jack Kingston’s (R-GA) run for Georgia’s Senate seat. Though he lost the primary, his bid for the Senate took the Labor-HHS subcommittee chair away from his legislative duties in the 113th. Labor-HHS was the only appropriations subcommittee not to report its appropriations bill in 2014, and only one of two subcommittees not to report its bill in 2013.

Several commentators noticed the rule could have consequences for other members, specifically Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). In addition to his potential ambition for higher office he also has his sights on the Ways and Means gavel. If he does decide to run for higher office in 2016, he would need a waiver exempting his chairmanship from the new restriction.

However, it is unclear leadership would grant him one. Ways and Means figures to be at the center of Republicans’ legislative strategy in the 114th Congress. Without a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, many bills will have to go through the reconciliation process, which allows bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority. This places Ryan’s political and policy ambitions at a crossroads.

Reconciliation has limited applicability. It can only be used on measures that affect direct spending, revenue, or the debt ceiling. In other words, most of the bills the reconciliation process would instigate fall in Ways and Means’ jurisdiction in the House. Since 1989, 11 of the 12 reconciliation instructions directed Ways and Means to draft and report bills. In short, the primary process Republicans will use to pass policies changing everything from Obamacare to tax reform would go through Paul Ryan’s presumptive committee.

If Republicans thought Kingston’s absence was a nuisance to the appropriations process, Ryan’s absence would surely be intolerable, particularly in the run up to the 2016 elections. Failing to chair the preeminent committee Republicans’ political and policy strategy centers upon would fundamentally undermine their majority. Today House leaders may lay this rule at Kingston’s feet. But it is not likely an accident the rule also complicates Ryan’s political future.