GOP lawmaker calls for committees to elect their own chairmen

GOP lawmaker calls for committees to elect their own chairmen
© Greg Nash

Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherLobbying World To win on anti-corruption, Democrats need to change the game plan House lawmakers look to reassure Australia after Mattis resignation MORE (R-Wis.) on Tuesday called for a rule change that would allow committee members to select their own chairmen.

The Wisconsin Republican — a founding member of the ReFormers Caucus and member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus — argued the gradual power shift from committees to leadership over the years has amplified the dysfunction on Capitol Hill.

"Whether it's a Democrat or Republican, until we find a way to get the place functioning again, I fear we're not going to have any of the big policy debates that we need to,” he told The Hill.

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“Anything we can do to devolve power and get the committees working again and move towards regular order would be good,” said Gallagher, adding that the current measure of a good member “is voting with leadership plus paying dues to the NRCC.”

He said his proposed change, which would come about by way of an amendment that he plans to introduce Tuesday evening, could motivate lawmakers to increase their focus on committee work.

"It would make the committee chairs more responsive to the needs of the individual members, it would therefore give them an incentive to move the legislative priorities of the members,” he said. “And it would also make the members of the committee more responsive to the demands of the committee, to channel their ambition into doing their committee work as opposed to just focusing on how to go across the street and raise a ton of money.”

Gallagher said the amendment would apply to all House committees except Rules, Budget and Administration.

If the change is implemented, committee members would elect the chair and ranking member by secret ballot, providing rank-and-file members with substantially more power than the Steering Committee, which currently selects panel leaders.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been increasingly vocal about their frustrations with what they consider dysfunction in Congress. The Problem Solvers Caucus has vowed not to support a Speaker unless that candidate backs changes to House rules.

Both the Problem Solvers Caucus and the ReFormers Caucus have proposed packages of rule changes in an effort to loosen the gridlock in Washington.

Gallagher's proposal is unlikely to be adopted, and he acknowledged it could be a tough sell with a number of lawmakers.

“It would require members to take risks, right, because a lot like the current arrangement where leadership sort of protects them from tough votes," he said. "And certainly there will be people that would abuse the process and submit amendments that were just intended to do, you know, theater.”

In addition to changing the way committee chairs are elected, Gallagher has also floated rule changes that would bar members from fundraising while the House is in session.

The first-term lawmaker argued that “while people are here they should be doing their actual work.”

Gallagher also said the House should combine authorizing and appropriating.

"You want members to understand the executive branch agencies that they're charged with overseeing, right?” he said. “If you have authorizers who feel disempowered because you appropriators make all the calls, well, then they're not going to burn the calories of developing that expertise.”

Gallagher said he’s attempting to “provoke a debate on process within the leadership election.”

“Anything we can do or even experiment with to get individual members more invested in the legislative process I think would be good,” Gallagher said. “I mean everyone seems to agree that Congress is broken. You know, we keep operating the same way, which I think is the literal definition of insanity.”