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Ways and Means chair contenders hone closing arguments

Competition for influential position may not be decided until January amid GOP leadership wrangling

It's a wide open race to succeed retiring Texas Rep. Kevin Brady as the top Ways and Means Republican.
It's a wide open race to succeed retiring Texas Rep. Kevin Brady as the top Ways and Means Republican. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo.)

The race for the House Ways and Means Committee chairmanship remains close as contenders prepare to make their final pitches to lead the powerful tax-writing panel.

Reps. Vern Buchanan of Florida, Jason Smith of Missouri and Adrian Smith of Nebraska are vying for the chairman job after current lead Republican Kevin Brady of Texas retires at the end of this month.

It’s unclear exactly when the Republican Steering Committee will meet to decide the race and other contested bids for committee chair positions. One lawmaker with knowledge of the situation expects the decision to be pushed back until after the Jan. 3 vote for speaker, though the situation remains in flux.

Another member with knowledge of the discussions said there’s a belief that Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is worried that weighing in on the Ways and Means contest and other contested races before the speaker election could upset the losing contenders enough to turn them against him.

Still, with timing up in the air, the GOP trio seeking the Ways and Means seat are continuing to make their cases for the job.

Buchanan has run on his business background, saying it’s provided real-world experience with tax and trade. He’s emphasized a focus on policy to help small businesses and startups grow, along with his experience in Congress leading five of Ways and Means’ six subcommittees.

Buchanan said in an interview Monday that as chairman he would prioritize obtaining buy-in from Republicans across Ways and Means, leadership and the full conference and empowering subcommittee chairs.

“Being in business for 30 years, I’ve always been very focused on getting people involved, part of a plan and a shared vision and inspiring them to get the job done,” he said. “It’s my job to help them be successful.”

[Buchanan touts business success in bid for Ways and Means slot]

After Florida Republicans flipped several seats and grew their delegation to 20 in the midterm elections, Buchanan is also arguing his home state deserves more representation. No Florida member currently holds a top Republican committee spot.

“You can make the argument that we did as much as anybody in terms of getting us back in the majority, so I think it’s not even about me, it’s about Florida,” Buchanan said.

Punchbowl News reported Thursday that some GOP lawmakers believe Buchanan could retire before the Jan. 3 speaker vote if he didn’t win the gavel. Buchanan denied that report, calling the notion he’d resign “laughable and ridiculous” in a statement.

“I’m committed to helping elect Kevin McCarthy speaker and continue to work every day to earn the support of the Steering Committee to become the next Ways and Means Chairman,” he said.

Jason Smith, who’s currently the Budget Committee’s top Republican, is running on a populist image of the GOP as the party of the working class, saying that his own background and his district’s status among the country’s poorest and most Republican make him the person for the job.

[‘Firebrand’ Missourian shakes up Ways and Means race]

At a Punchbowl News event on Wednesday, he said there could be room for “true agreement” with Democrats on issues like expanding the child tax credit and overhauling aid to low-income families. Scaling back or repealing a minimum tax Democrats imposed on the largest companies as part of this summer’s budget reconciliation law would be Smith’s “last priority” given his focus on aiding working people, he said.

Smith said in an interview last week that earlier this fall he presented a 34-page plan for his focus as Ways and Means chairman to members of the steering panel. It draws on how the committee should implement pieces of House Republicans’ “Commitment to America” plan released this September for how they’d govern in the majority and priorities of fellow GOP Ways and Means members, according to an aide.

Smith also pointed to the need for a chairman who can unite the House GOP and his own relationships, dating back to his time as conference secretary, including with incoming freshmen. “With this close majority, someone who has those relationships is going to be crucial,” Smith said.

Adrian Smith has pitched himself as the policy wonk of the group, who’s committed to toiling behind the scenes to get work done and translating policy details to resonate with the American people.

“I’m the guy who can get the most done and certainly have the relationships with colleagues across the steering committee, across the entire conference,” he said in an interview last week.

Smith said his style would set him apart the most from Buchanan and Jason Smith in that he’d bring a steadiness to the role and desire to hear people out. He also pointed to his background coming from a small town in Nebraska.

[Nebraska policy wonk makes pitch for top Ways and Means slot]

“I’m told that I’m the policy guy and I do embrace that. I remind them that I like to have fun too,” Smith said, pointing to his desire to make policy relatable for the American people.

Tax priorities

The three Republicans have named similar first priorities such as taking up the tax provisions from the GOP’s 2017 tax law that expire after 2025 and pressing the IRS on an $80 billion budget boost from Democrats’ climate, tax and health care law, which Republicans oppose.

Adrian Smith pointed to his bill to rescind most of the new IRS funding.

Buchanan pointed to his own measure to make provisions of the 2017 law permanent and a desire to act quickly on the issue.

Jason Smith has emphasized his focus on aggressive oversight. As part of his plan to probe the $80 billion infusion for the IRS, he said he’d set up a hotline for IRS employees to report concerns to Congress.

A range of factors will likely come into play as Republicans decide the race, including fundraising that helped the GOP take back the House.

Buchanan delivered the biggest haul for the House GOP’s campaign arm among the trio at over $4 million, according to a copy of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s leaderboard as of Nov. 8.

Jason Smith delivered a more than $3 million NRCC haul. He also raised $1.7 million for other members and candidates including $720,000 in direct contributions to their campaigns and 72 campaign stops, according to an aide.

Adrian Smith raised almost $1.7 million for the NRCC and other candidates and committees and made more than 40 visits to campaign with candidates in person, according to a spokesperson. “He’s just getting started and is already looking to the 2024 cycle, where he will double down on his work to grow the majority,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Steering shuffle

The Republican Steering Committee that will decide the outcome saw its makeup shift after the midterms from its current slate. Members include top leadership figures like McCarthy who get extra votes, other GOP leaders and regional and class representatives.

In a boost for Buchanan’s bid, Florida gained a second representative and declared Buchanan supporter on the panel: Mario Diaz-Balart.

Other new members include Texas Rep. Jodey C. Arrington, a Ways and Means member who’s challenging Jason Smith for the Budget gavel even if the latter is passed over for Ways and Means chairman; New York Rep. Andrew Garbarino; Indiana Rep. Larry Bucshon; and Wisconsin Rep. Bryan Steil, according to a list of regional representatives obtained by CQ Roll Call.

Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona shifted into a regional representative role, which leaves open a spot for a McCarthy designee. Leadership shuffling also means the new conference secretary, Michigan Rep. Lisa McClain, and chief deputy whip, Pennsylvania Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, join the selection panel.

The steering committee will vote by secret ballot, sending its recommendation on to a full caucus vote that would likely succeed.

Several steering committee members have publicly backed candidates in the Ways and Means race.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, a fellow Missourian, will speak in favor of Jason Smith and has emphasized his record and work ethic leading Budget panel Republicans, along with his rise from “humble backgrounds” to his current position.

Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly has been whipping votes for Buchanan and plans to speak in his favor. Kelly has emphasized Buchanan’s resume in and out of Congress and that he’s earned the job fundraising for the GOP this cycle.

Another factor is seniority. Kelly sits ahead of Jason Smith among Ways and Means Republicans, but behind Buchanan and Adrian Smith, who joined the panel the same year.

“If we follow the tradition of Ways and Means, there’s an ascension to that point,” Kelly said. “I’d like to keep it that way because we’ve changed too many of the old standards.”

Along with the chairman’s race, at least 10 Republicans are vying for seats on Ways and Means, which the steering committee will likely take up in January.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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