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House GOP: Give up gavel if seeking new office

ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press writer

House Republicans have adopted a new party rule that blocks powerful House committee chairmen from seeking other office if they want to want to hold onto their post.

The rules change means chairmen would not be distracted from their legislative duties or party responsibilities while running for the Senate, governor or president. It originated from frustration that several recent heads of a powerful Appropriations subcommittee responsible for health and education were shirking their responsibilities while running for the Senate.

The rule authored by U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., means, for instance, that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan would have to give up his gavel to chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee if he ran for president. Ryan currently is coveting the top position at Ways and Means. He could seek a waiver from the rule, however.

Aides said the rule arose from frustration that U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, chairman of the Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee, would not introduce or act on the panel’s important spending bill while running in a divisive GOP primary for Georgia’s Senate seat. Kingston’s predecessor, former Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., did the same thing in the 2012 campaign cycle.

Cole wouldn’t name names but said lawmakers running in races for other offices are inevitably distracted from their legislative work.

“They’re not going to have the time to do the job. No. 2, no matter how hard they try, their own political considerations are going to impinge upon the decisions they’re making,” Cole said. “We need to promote members that are going to stay here. And if they’re running for something else their attention is somewhere else.”

Also, GOP lawmakers rejected a bid by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., to weaken the party’s five-year-old ban on earmarks, those home-district projects like roads, economic development grants, and research grants to local colleges and universities. Rogers wanted to allow lawmakers to earmark money to state and local governments.

Earmarks flourished in the early 2000s and often benefited private companies whose executives rewarded lawmakers with campaign cash. It also led members to vote for legislation they might otherwise have opposed.

It lost by a wide margin. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, the driving force behind the earmark ban, told his colleagues that the idea would pass “over my dead body.”

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