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Rep. Jason Smith opts out of Senate bid, will run for Ways and Means slot

Powerful tax panel's current top Republican is retiring

House Budget Committee ranking Republican Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, left, is seeking to become the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee next year.
House Budget Committee ranking Republican Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, left, is seeking to become the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee next year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Missouri Rep. Jason Smith plans to run for a sixth term in the House rather than seek his state’s soon to be open Senate seat while launching a bid to be the top Republican on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in the 118th Congress.

Smith, 41, is currently the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee. His decision to seek a switch to Ways and Means, which was first reported by NBC News, comes as that slot will open up with the retirement of Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, after this Congress.

“I am ready to be the next Republican chair of Ways and Means,” Smith told NBC in comments his spokesman later confirmed.

Two other House incumbents, Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, have been running in a crowded field for the Republican nomination to succeed Roy Blunt in the Senate. Other contenders include Eric Greitens, a former governor who resigned in 2018 amid accusations of sexual assault, and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

Hartzler led the field with cash in her campaign account, with $1.8 million on Dec. 31, according to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.

Smith is an ambitious up-and-comer in the GOP conference who’s become known for his fiery partisan attacks in committee and floor debates on budget bills, including the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package last March and the now-stalled “Build Back Better” reconciliation package.

“Missouri families need help right now. That’s why today I’m asking for your support to continue the fight as your representative in the people’s House,” Smith said in a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday. “Together we’ll expose the left’s lies, and we’ll give folks the ladder they need to climb out of Joe Biden’s hole. We’ll fire Nancy Pelosi and we’ll put the people back in charge.”

Under House rules, a limited number of members can serve on both Ways and Means and Budget; Smith was appointed to Ways and Means in 2015, and two years later he was assigned to Budget.

Whoever gets the nod to replace Brady as the top Ways and Means Republican will hold broad sway to influence policymaking in the next Congress. Ways and Means enjoys jurisdiction over all legislation affecting federal revenue, including tax and trade bills, Social Security and health care measures affecting Medicare.

With House Republicans currently favored to retake control in that chamber, the next Ways and Means chair would be able to stifle any tax increases or other policies proposed by the Biden White House, since under the Constitution revenue bills must originate in the House.

A Smith candidacy at Ways and Means makes it a three-way race that also includes Florida’s Vern Buchanan and Nebraska’s Adrian Smith. Both have more seniority than Missouri’s Smith, but seniority isn’t the only factor in the GOP Steering Committee and ultimately the full conference’s decision.

[Contenders vie for top Ways and Means GOP slot after Nunes exit]

“My colleagues put me in a position to lead our conference at the Budget Committee, and I think they have been happy with that choice,” Smith told NBC.

In response to Smith jumping into the race, his competitors pointed to their own progress with party decision-makers.

Savannah Glasgow, a spokesperson for Buchanan, said he’s “picked up tremendous support from steering committee members” since announcing he’d seek the position last year.

Adrian Smith‘s spokesperson, Tiffany Haverly, said her boss welcomes participation from fellow Republicans in the process but knows he’s uniquely qualified for the job.

“He’s very encouraged by the feedback he’s received from his colleagues and looks forward to more meetings with members of the Steering Committee and conference at large,” Haverly said in a statement.

In Ryan’s footsteps?

He’d be following a path similar to the one former Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., once went down. Ryan’s long-shot bid to become the top Republican on House Budget helped him carve out a name for himself and earn national prominence as an effective communicator and policy expert, eventually culminating in his elevation to the presidential ticket as Mitt Romney‘s running mate in 2012. Romney, R-Utah, now serves in the Senate.

Ryan, who served on both Budget and Ways and Means, was considered a lock for the Ways and Means chairmanship after former Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., faced term limits and retired after 2014. Ryan’s Ways and Means leadership was cut short when his colleagues urged him to take the speaker’s job after Ohio Republican John A. Boehner’s surprise late September 2015 announcement that he’d be resigning shortly.

If Smith gets his colleagues’ vote for Ways and Means, there could be a wide-open race to succeed him on Budget.

Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, who lost out to Smith prior to the 117th Congress, subsequently left the committee, but there’s precedent for members coming back.

Johnson spokesman Ben Keeler said Wednesday that “Bill would definitely be interested in serving as the lead Republican on the Budget Committee” if Smith indeed jumps into the Ways and Means race.

Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., is the current No. 2 ranking panel member, which is a slot traditionally designated by GOP leaders. Behind Kelly in seniority this year is California’s Tom McClintock.

Smith first needs to win reelection in November.

Redistricting plans in Missouri are stalled in the state Senate, where conservative Republicans are pushing for more GOP-leaning seats, but the new map as currently proposed wouldn’t change much from the existing lines.

That shouldn’t pose much of a hurdle for Smith, who has routinely won by roughly 50 percentage points in recent elections, mirroring former President Donald Trump’s results in 2016 and 2020 in what’s now the 8th Congressional District, stretching from the state’s “bootheel” tip to the St. Louis exurbs.

Laura Weiss, Paul M. Krawzak and Herb Jackson contributed to this report.

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