House Republicans face a dilemma in keeping popular and influential conservative Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Under GOP rules, Ryan, who has been the committee’s lead Republican since the 2006 elections, is limited to six years as committee chairman or ranking member and would need a waiver to keep his post in the next Congress.
But if he doesn’t become Romney’s running mate this year — or join the Romney administration as a Cabinet member — Republicans will face a tough choice.
The stakes are high for the GOP, given the budgetary issues set to face the next Congress.
Many in Washington expect a lame-duck session of Congress to kick decisions to next year on expiring tax rates and spending cuts set in motion by last summer’s debt deal.
Tax and entitlement reform are both possible agenda items for the next Congress, and Ryan would be a key player as Budget Committee chairman, assuming the House remains in GOP control.
Ryan, whose office declined to comment for this story, has been preparing for this moment.
His most recent budget, released earlier this year, would cut spending by $5 trillion over 10 years and turn Medicare into a partially privatized system where future seniors would have the option to receive subsidies to buy private insurance.
The fact that Ryan’s budget has for two years in a row proven to be the most popular major legislation across the GOP conference would seem to make keeping him as Budget chairman a “no-brainer.”
“There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that anybody else gets it if Paul wants it,” one Republican lawmaker said of the Budget Committee gavel.
Budget Committee member Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said waivers should not be granted except in Ryan’s case.
“I’ve never seen a Budget chairman do as much as he has, drive the national conversation the way he has,” he said.
But many conservatives hold term limits dear. Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist told The Hill this week that the GOP should stick to term limits, even though keeping Ryan as chairman helps advance ATR’s spending and tax-cutting agenda.
Keeping the limits in place “would always be my advice,” Norquist said.
Norquist said the GOP’s six-year term limits prevent lawmakers from establishing fiefdoms that increase government spending. Democrats in the past have allowed chairmen to dominate committees for decades and create unaccountable patronage systems, he charged.
He said GOP leaders could ensure Ryan played a major role in budget decisions even if he no longer held his panel’s gavel.
“I am not concerned that his knowledge would be lost based on what particular position he holds,” Norquist said. “Whenever he stands, even if it is in a chair out in the hallway, he will play a central role in enacting his budget.”
Norquist said that the GOP could create a role for Ryan in House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) “kitchen cabinet” or expand Ryan’s role on the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax and entitlement reform.
In 2010, the House refused to give Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) a waiver, handing the powerful Appropriations Committee to Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).
If Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) survives a primary challenge, he would also need a waiver to remain chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. If Ryan secures that waiver, others like Mica will argue they too should get waivers to retain their chairmanships.
Challenging the term-limit policy could complicate Ryan’s drive to eventually replace Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) as Ways and Means chairman. Camp would be term-limited out of his chairmanship after 2014, but might seek a waiver to retain his post if one were given to Ryan.
Several lawmakers spoke carefully in commenting on what might happen with Ryan’s chairmanship.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said waivers from GOP rules in general undermine the party’s credibility. Pressed on Ryan specifically, however, Mulvaney said years spent as a ranking member should be given less weight.
Budget Committee member Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.) was effusive in praising Ryan, but would not say a waiver should be issued.
“He’s a national treasure, so I think he has been really valuable to the committee,” he said. “I don’t have any thoughts about him as chairman versus anyone else.”
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), a staunch fiscal conservative and the budget point man on the Republican Study Committee, is next in line for the Budget gavel.
Sources say Garrett is interested in taking the helm of the Financial Services Committee. But Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a member of leadership, has a strong shot at that chairmanship.
Next in line after Garrett is Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a centrist appropriator who has tried to broker a deficit grand bargain with Democrats.
Boehner’s office also avoided substantive comment.“That will be a decision for the Steering Committee at the appropriate time.” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.