Who Will Succeed Ralph Hall as HSS&T Chair Next Congress? - clarification
Clarification: The interpretation of the House rules discussed in this article was adopted by the House Republican Conference as part of its Rule 14. The wording of some of the sentences in this article have been modified to reflect that document.
House rules limit committee chairs to serving six years in that position, but they are being interpreted to include service as ranking member as well. That means Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) would not continue as chair of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee in the 113th Congress if Republicans retain control of the House. The question then is who would replace him.
The chairs of congressional committees are from whatever party controls that chamber. When Republicans regained control of the House for the 112th Congress, they adopted rules that set term limits for committee chairs similar to the rules they imposed when they last controlled the House. Rule X(5)(c)(2) says "except in the case of the Committee on Rules, a member of a standing committee may not serve as chair of the same standing committee, or of the same subcommittee of a standing committee, during more than three consecutive Congresses...." A Congress lasts two years, so that's a term limit of six years.
Under a strict interpretation of that House rule, Hall could remain as chair since he has served in that position for only one Congress. However, when Democrats controlled the House in the 110th and 111th Congresses, he was the ranking member on the committee. Ranking member is the top leadership position on a committee for the party that is not in control. That totals six consecutive years as the top Republican on HSS&T. The House Republican Conference adopted its own Rule 14 that includes time served as ranking member as well as chair in the term limit. Therefore, even though none of the current committee chairs has served more than one Congress in those positions, seven are term-limited, including Hall.
Politico reports this morning that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is mostly likely to take the chair position on House SS&T; he has reached his own term limit as chair of the Judiciary Committee. Politico says another contender for the HSS&T chair position is Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), currently HSS&T's vice chair. Sensenbrenner served four years (1997-2001) as chair of HSS&T, when it was called the House Science Committee, where he frequently clashed with then-NASA Administrator Dan Goldin.
Smith and Sensenbrenner both are co-sponsors of H.R. 6491, the Space Leadership Preservation Act introduced last week that would change NASA's governance structure and make the NASA Administrator a 10-year appointed position.
Committee chairs are selected by their caucus as a new Congress begins. With the elections just a few weeks away, jockeying for position already has begun. Of course one must await the outcome of the elections to see if Republicans retain control of the House. Many Washington pundits are expecting they will, but nothing is certain until the elections are over.
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