Monday, January 12, 2009

Committee Chair Term Limits Abolished

David Freddoso talks about one of the Rules changes that House Democrats have enacted, that is the abolition of terms limits for Committee Chairmen.
Democrats have argued that the term-limits only encouraged members to compete for chairmanships by raising lots of campaign money, and that this somehow corrupts the system further. Hoyer argued for it in this way:
I understand that our Republican colleagues once wrote term limits into the rules in an effort against entrenched power. But it is now clear that that effort fell victim to what conservatives like to call the law of unintended consequences: With chairmanships up for grabs so frequently, fundraising ability became one of the most important job qualifications, and legislative skill was sacrificed to political considerations.
Although the term-limits may not have worked as well as anyone hoped, it is hard to see how a return to "chairmen for life" improves anything. It offers the House's most powerful members a permanent platform from which to extort campaign contributions from the industries they regulate. At best, this is a choice between six of one or half a dozen of the other in terms of the integrity of the campaign finance system. And so one has to believe that this change is motivated by concerns other than those cited.
Admittedly, using fundraising as metric for awarding chairmanships seems, well, a little crass. But including the fundraising made sure that would be chairmen did three things of importance to the party:
1. Work to ensure and expand the majority by at least trying to appear to be a team player.
2. Consolidated power in the GOP leadership so that they wouldn't have the "maverick problem." See John Boehner for an illustration.
3. Since Chairmen would rotate, it encouraged Members to become versant in more than one committee jurisdiction--thus expanding their knowledge and one presume their utility as Representatives and Republicans.

From a party standpoint, it makes little sense either. When Committee chairmanship were up for grabs every few terms, it motivated younger members to be hungry, entrepenurial in nature from both a party building and policy perspective. With seniority rules, the Members like Charlie Rangel who will hold the Ways & Means gavel until death or convictio in a court of law (take your pick), there is little incentive in the rank and file to do anything but wait and that is not good for governing or party discipline. Some young buck can't have the threat of having a committee chairmanship withheld because he didn't toe the party line, so there is little incentive to "behave."

Did the GOP plan have flaws? Sure, but at least they were new flaws. With the "new" Democrat rules, we get the old flaws back.

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