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By Chris Vieson

Ever since House Republicans adopted a moratorium on congressional earmarks, the Republican leadership has had difficulties cajoling its Members into voting for legislation and adhering to party structure. Most notably, Speaker Boehner struggled to find ways to enforce order within his Conference and it ultimately forced his resignation.

Boehner made two very public disciplinary actions during his speakership: First, he and the Republican Steering Committee, which determines committee assignments, removed four Members from key committees in December 2012 before the start of the 113th Congress (Tim Huelskamp from Agriculture and Budget, Justin Amash from Budget, David Schweikert and Walter Jones from Financial Services). These Members were blocked from returning to their top-tier committee assignments because of their pattern of voting against leadership on high-profile votes. Huelskamp and Amash, for example, voted against the Budget Resolution yet were serving on the Budget Committee.

Then, Boehner and Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz tried to strip Mark Meadows of an Oversight subcommittee chairmanship after he voted against a procedural motion on the House floor. Fortunately for Meadows, the Conference and committee rules made the move nearly impossible to enforce.

Now that Paul Ryan faces another vote on the House floor to remain Speaker at the start of the 115th Congress in January, he has found a new way to enforce party discipline: Leadership will not put forth the Steering Committee recommendations for rank-and-file Member committee assignments for ratification by the Conference until after the full House votes next year on who will be Speaker. This is a break from tradition.

Learning from Boehner’s two moves, Ryan has figured out that it is easier to delay appointing Members on committees than it is to remove Members from committees once they have been appointed. We will know which Members have been unofficially slotted to which committees in December, but leadership’s official recommendations won’t go forward until Ryan is elected Speaker on the floor in January. Thus, any Member voting against Ryan on the floor risks losing his or her preferred committee slot.

As we know, committee assignments are extraordinarily important to House Members. Unlike the Senate, they rarely get assigned to more than one or two. Committee placement can be vital to the well-being of that Member’s district. It is the number one determinant of political clout, both for getting reelected and for shaping the direction of the Conference. By tying the speaker vote to committee assignments, Ryan is setting a stark tone that party discipline is required under his leadership or there will be consequences.

For reference, let’s look at how the current committee assignment process differs from the new Ryan process. As you can see, the process is the same under both approaches until the votes in early January.

Normal Committee Assignment Process*

Nov. 8th: Election Day

Week of Nov. 14th: Republican House Conference votes on Leadership positions, and Steering Committee members are selected

Week of Nov. 28th: Steering Committee meets to select all committee chairmen

Week of Dec. 5th: Steering Committee meets to appoint rank-and-file Members to committees

Week of Jan 2nd:

1. Full Conference meets to ratify Conference and House Rules and committee assignments prior to Speaker vote on House floor

2. Speaker vote on House floor

Ryan Committee Assignment Process*

Nov. 8th: Election Day

Week of Nov. 14th: Republican Conference votes on Leadership positions, and Steering Committee members are selected

Week of Nov. 28th: Steering Committee meets to select all committee chairmen

Week of Dec. 5th: Steering Committee meets to appoint rank-and-file Members to committees

Week of Jan 2nd:

1. Full Conference meets to ratify Conference and House Rules

2. Speaker vote on House floor

3. Full Conference meets to ratify committee assignments after Speaker vote on House floor

* All dates are approximate (except for Election Day).


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