Camp Runs Ways and Means Quietly

Posted June 17, 2011 at 5:48pm

He might be one of the most powerful men in Washington, but you wouldn’t know it to look at Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp.

Unlike predecessors such as Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the Michigan Republican isn’t known for a bombastic style, opting instead for a more measured approach.

And that, those who know Camp say, is the secret to his success.

“Members just like Dave. He’s got a good way about him. He knows his stuff, he does his homework,” said Jack Howard, a lobbyist with Wexler & Walker.

“He is a very thoughtful and deliberative guy,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said of Camp in a recent interview.

A lobbyist who works on issues before Camp’s committee said bluntly, “You shouldn’t mistake a lack of bombast for a lack of effectiveness.”

Howard, who has known Camp since he was elected 20 years ago, said the Representative is particularly well-suited to the new regime of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has emphasized a more traditional, committee-driven approach than has been used in recent years.

“In a way, he’s reflective of the Boehner leadership style,” Howard said. “Just get the job done.”

Camp says that while there is a place for partisanship and messaging, his approach to running the committee is about results.

“I think my style is closer to [former Rep.] Bill Archer’s style,” Camp said, referring to the Texas Republican who chaired the committee from 1996 to 2001. Like Camp, Archer was a social and fiscal conservative in many ways. But particularly in the later years of his chairmanship, Archer built a reputation for attempting to find ways around partisan gridlock, working with Democrats and Republicans alike.

Camp’s agenda is simple: “Mine is focused on solutions and getting things done,” he said.

So far this year, that strategy has given Camp a bit of a dubious distinction, being one of the few chairmen to author policy legislation that has been signed by President Barack Obama.

While the Energy and Commerce Committee, Natural Resources Committee and other panels have focused on red-meat agenda items, Camp quickly pushed through repeal of the 1099 reporting requirement, a key component of Obama’s health care reform law that was deeply unpopular with small-business owners because it would have dramatically increased the amount of information that they would file to the IRS. Unlike virtually every other GOP effort to repeal all or part of that law, Camp’s bill found broad bipartisan support.

“We’re the only committee to have the president repeal a part of his health care bill,” Camp said proudly.

To be sure, things have not been altogether smooth for the committee, and Camp has had his share of failures. In February, conservatives rallied against a key trade bill that he and other rust-belt lawmakers supported. Extending the Trade Adjustment Assistance programs, which provide education and training for workers displaced by trade deals or outsourcing, was opposed by conservatives who balked at the cost.

Camp and House leaders thought they had sufficient support for passage but learned just hours before a scheduled vote that conservative defections were mounting. In an embarrassing defeat, the bill was pulled from the floor.

The second setback came last month, when Camp tried to move legislation overhauling unemployment insurance. That bill would use block grants to the states to pay for the program and has the backing of many conservative activists.

But Camp and Cantor were again forced to scrap a vote after a briefing for freshman lawmakers in which it became clear that support for the bill wasn’t there. Although Members complained about not understanding the measure, aides familiar with the situation said Camp had fallen victim to circumstances beyond his control.

At the same time that he was looking to move the bill, Democrats were hammering the GOP over Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (Wis.) sweeping changes to Medicare, and Republicans were spooked by anything resembling that proposal’s block-grant plan.

Still, Camp said he has been pleased with the committee’s work thus far, particularly on difficult issues.

“We’re making good headway” on free-trade agreements, tax reform and other areas, he said.

But even when he acknowledges some problems, Camp makes no apologies for trying to push difficult bills. He said he is willing to risk hiccups to reform the way government works. On the unemployment bill, for example, Camp said the failed effort wasn’t wasted.

“Every time you do something like that, the paybacks are there,” he said. “They may not be there on day one.”