Barton: No waiver, let's clarify the rules for chairmen term-limits

In the dust-up over who should chair the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Fred Upton is usually described as being the guy in line, while current ranking member and former chairman Joe Barton is said to require a “waiver” of the GOP's term-limits rule.

Well, Barton thinks he doesn't need a waiver, he just needs the rules clarified, or changed, depending on your perspective.

Barton has sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter calling for the GOP to rewrite the rules on chairmanships. He's listed five examples of new language, all of which would allow him to stay on as chairman for at least one more term.

Here's the language of the current rule, which Barton states — and I agree — is ambiguous

No individual shall serve more than three consecutive terms as Chairman or Ranking Member of a standing, select, joint, or ad hoc Committee or Subcommittee beginning with the 104th Congress.

Barton's first idea: adopt the Senate GOP rule, which doesn't count a member's time as ranking member (Barton had four years) against his chairmanship term limits. I'm pasting Barton's suggestions below:

Option 1:          Senate Republicans adopted the House Republicans’ rule in 1997. In 2001, when Senator Jeffords switched parties from Republican to Independent, they clarified the rule to state that a Senator can serve six years as Chairman and six years as Ranking Member, if service as Ranking Member comes before or in between time served as Chairman. Option one would be for the Republican House Conference to adopt the Republican Senate interpretation of the rule. This has the advantage of conforming Republican rules in both chambers.

Option 2:          Eliminate any reference to term limits in the minority and have a simple, easy to understand rule on term limits for Chairmen:

“No Member shall serve more than three consecutive terms as Chairman of a standing, select, joint, or ad hoc Committee or Subcommittee.”

Option 3:          Retain term limits for Ranking Members, but recognize the difference between minority status and majority status. Allow extra time in the minority, and count it one-half towards majority time:

“No Member shall serve more than five consecutive terms as Ranking Member and no more than three consecutive terms as Chairman. In the event of a transition from majority to minority, or minority to majority status, time served as Ranking Member shall count one-half as much as Chairman.”

Option 4:          Allow only one term as Ranking Member. This will allow the maximum number of Members to serve as Ranking Member in the minority, thus providing a trial run of their potential leadership abilities as Chairman:

“No Member may serve more than three consecutive terms as Chairman of a standing, select, or ad hoc Committee or Subcommittee. If in the minority, no Member may serve more than one term as Ranking Member, until all non-freshmen Members of the Committee have served one term as Ranking Member.”

Option 5:          Adopt a special transition, one time only rule for this upcoming Congress, allowing all Ranking Members to be eligible for at least one term as Chairman, if nominated by the Republican Steering Committee:

“Notwithstanding the number of terms served as Ranking Member, any ranking Member in good standing shall be eligible for at least one term as Chairman, so long as that Ranking Member has not previously served three terms as Chairman of the Committee.”

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