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GOP Moves Forward With Sweeping Steering Panel Changes

Ryan is ready to see his own influence diluted on the Steering Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Ryan is ready to see his own influence diluted on the Steering Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans are moving forward with an ambitious and far-reaching plan to overhaul the membership and operation of the Steering Committee, with a vote expected Thursday.  

It’s only the first in a series of changes to GOP operations that Paul D. Ryan promised upon his election as speaker. Under a proposal formally unveiled to members at their weekly meeting Tuesday morning, some adjustments would be made this year to the Steering Committee, which assigns lawmakers to the standing panels of the House.  

Those immediate changes would include:

    • Removing the six committee chairmen who have permanent seats at the Steering Committee table: Pete Session of Rules, Jeb Hensarling of Financial Services, Kevin Brady of Ways and Means, Tom Price of Budget, Harold Rogers of Appropriations and Fred Upton of Energy and Commerce.
    • Adding one “rotating committee chairman” slot, to be occupied by any chairman whose committee membership is under consideration by the Steering panel.
    • Replacing the six committee chairman slots with six “at large” appointments to better reflect the diversity of the Republican Conference. According to a source familiar with the proposal, any lawmaker would be allowed to run for an appointment, and each member would vote by secret ballot for just one candidate. The six candidates who receive the most votes will serve on Steering. This election will take place before the end of 2015.
    • Adding one slot to be filled at the discretion of the speaker to address gaps in representation. For example, if there is a dearth of Freedom Caucus representatives or too few women on the panel, the speaker could use this slot to fill out the Steering Committee.

Under the proposed new rules, these changes to Steering Committee would be made at the end of 2016 in preparation for the 115th Congress:

  • Six new regional representatives would be added. There are currently 13 regions represented, which includes Texas and the “small states.” The Steering Committee of the 115th Congress would include six new regions to better reflect the geographic makeup of the Republican Conference, which would likely keep Texas and add Florida, another large delegation high in GOP membership.
  • The six “at large” appointed in the 114th Congress would be replaced with these new regional representatives.

According to the source with direct knowledge of the proposal, increasing the number of regional representatives on the Steering Committee to 19 would likely replace the need for the speaker to fill in any gaps in representation, but he would likely retain that option should it be necessary.  

Also, for the first time, House Republican leadership would be required to make the Steering Committee roster public. The list of members is currently not publicly disclosed or published anywhere online — a nod to how it has historically been a forum for a speaker to gather allies to dole out coveted committee assignments.  

The reputation of the Steering Committee as a speakership perk and vehicle for favoritism made it a target for conservatives who have been clamoring for a more bottom-up leadership style from the senior ranks.  

In keeping with his promise for a more inclusive House, Ryan is expected to endorse the package of Steering Committee changes that also dilutes his own influence. Under the revamped Steering Committee, Ryan will only get four votes — instead of the traditional five — to exercise however he wants.  

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report. 

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