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Rep. Jason Smith wins three-way contest for Ways and Means gavel

42-year-old Missourian set to become youngest-ever chairman of powerful panel

Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., arrives for the start of the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on releasing former President Donald Trump's tax returns on December 20, 2022.
Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., arrives for the start of the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on releasing former President Donald Trump's tax returns on December 20, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

​Rep. Jason Smith, a self-proclaimed “firebrand” preaching a populist image of the GOP, won the nomination to be chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

The 42-year-old Republican representing a rural Missouri district is set up to gain a powerful gavel overseeing measures that impact federal revenue and spending, from the tax code and trade policy to Medicare and Social Security.

Once the House Republican Conference formally ratifies the steering panel selection, Smith will become the youngest-ever chairman of Ways and Means. He’ll break the previous record set by former Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who was just shy of 45 when he became chairman in 2015 before ending that year as speaker.

Smith said Monday that his pitch to Republicans was the record of his work as Budget’s top GOP member and that “providing for working-class Americans is my focus.”

Smith got the nod in a secret-ballot vote Monday of the Republican Steering Committee that nominates committee chairs. He pulled it off after being the last candidate to jump into the race and even as he jumps the line in seniority over competitors, Reps. Vern Buchanan of Florida and Adrian Smith of Nebraska.

In a statement after the vote, Smith in a statement called it “deeply humbling and an honor” to be selected.

“With our new House Republican majority, we have made a commitment to the American people to build a stronger economy that gives everyone — not just the wealthy and politically-connected — greater opportunity to build a more prosperous future for themselves and their families,” Smith said.

The vote went to a second ballot after no candidate won majority support on the first ballot. Adrian Smith, with the least number of first-ballot votes, was eliminated, leaving Jason Smith and Buchanan going head-to-head.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., is seen outside a House Republican Steering Committee meeting to select committee chairs in the Capitol on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After the vote, Buchanan released a statement congratulating Smith, saying he looks forward to working with him on the panel’s expansive agenda. But he expressed regret at the “big loss for Florida” and its large House delegation.

“Florida deserves a seat at the leadership table. Our party needs to move forward and show the country that we’re ready to lead,” Buchanan said.

Adrian Smith released his own congratulatory statement after the vote, saying his competitor’s success “means success for the entire [GOP] conference and — more importantly — for the American people.”

Fundraising, relationships

Numerous factors likely played into the sixth-term Republican prevailing, including placing himself alongside Buchanan among top fundraisers to help the GOP win the House in November and his involvement in negotiations last week that helped Kevin McCarthy secure the speaker’s gavel.

Personal relationships, including with McCarthy, and his vision for the role were also likely among factors.

And he’ll need to use all his skills and relationships to navigate the thicket of fiscal policy coming Republicans’ way this year. On the top of the agenda is likely to be a nasty debt ceiling battle with conservatives demanding steep spending cuts in domestic programs as their price for raising the national borrowing cap.

Smith was the top Republican on the Budget Committee last Congress and planned to seek that panel’s top slot again if he didn’t win Ways and Means.

Smith is known for animated speeches during committee meetings, and served as a top GOP voice opposing Democrats’ tax and spending plans over the last two years, helping Republicans hone their messaging against multiple budget reconciliation bills.

“Do I bring a firebrand to the committee? Absolutely,” Smith said in an interview last fall. “But I’m reflective of our party.”

‘Cut from a different cloth’

Smith’s style and record led several Ways and Means Democrats to raise concern about bipartisanship if he won the gavel.

Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan said last fall that his competitors had the demeanor to facilitate bipartisanship, but that “Mr. Smith is cut from a different cloth.”

Still, facing a Democrat-controlled Senate and White House, Smith said he’s worked with committee Democrats and would continue to as long as it doesn’t compromise his values.

Those values include using the panel to execute his vision of the Republican Party as one serving the working class over big corporations.

He’s said that he’d pursue tax policies to incentivize domestic energy, food and health care production; hold hearings to review what worked and should be extended from the 2017 GOP tax code overhaul (PL 115-97); reconsider tax breaks for “woke corporations;” and aim to cut the trade deficit with China and other countries.

Smith said at a Punchbowl News event last year that he believed he could find “true agreement” with Democrats on issues like expanding the child tax credit.

He’s emphasized the need for work requirements on the benefit for families with children, while Democrats have pressed to open it more broadly, arguing that single mothers and grandparents who serve as primary caregivers might not be able to work, but should still get aid. 

Ways and Means ranking member Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., congratulated Smith on his win.

“We have worked together for years on some of the most consequential issues, and I look forward to continuing the committee’s tradition of rising above politics to do what’s best for the American people,” Neal said in a statement.

Smith has also pledged aggressive oversight as Ways and Means chairman, including of the nearly $80 billion in IRS funding to boost tax enforcement that Democrats delivered last year, leaks of taxpayer data and the Biden administration’s efforts to negotiate a 15 percent global minimum tax on companies’ earnings.

With the IRS a particular target of Republicans, he’s said he’ll set up a hotline for agency employees to report concerns to Congress.

“When I talk about oversight, it’s going to be aggressive,” Smith said in a December interview. “The American people deserve answers and the American people deserve their government to be effective and to work for them, not their government to target them.”

‘New precedent’

Smith has also signaled he could use the gavel to seek tax records of President Joe Biden’s family members, which would likely set up sharp clashes with Democrats.

After Ways and Means Democrats released former President Donald Trump’s tax returns just before the last Congress ended, Smith said in a statement that the move would “forever change” the nature of congressional oversight.

“Come January, Democrats will only have themselves to blame for this new precedent, as they have now given the incoming Republican majority the clear authority to use tools at the committee’s disposal to investigate whether President Biden and his family have enriched themselves off the Washington Democrats’ agenda,” he said.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden have released their tax returns publicly, including their latest 2021 fillings, as have Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff.

Smith has also argued he has relationships throughout the GOP’s 222-member conference that will help him navigate a narrow Republican majority — which already proved difficult by complicating McCarthy’s speaker bid.

To get the Ways and Means gavel, a majority of the House Republican Conference still has to approve Smith’s nomination. It’s unlikely they’d reject a pick from the steering committee, which is made up of more than 30 members including GOP leadership and representatives of different parts of the conference mostly based on geography. McCarthy and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., have extra votes.

If approved, Smith would succeed former Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, who retired from Congress after a six-year run atop the GOP side of Ways and Means that included shepherding through the party’s 2017 law to cut the corporate tax rate and trim most individual income tax rates. Republicans’ conference rules limit committee chairs to serving three straight terms, meaning this would likely kick off a six-year run atop Ways and Means.

Smith will become the second Ways and Means chairman to represent Missouri in Congress. The first was Rep. John S. Phelps, a Democrat who held the gavel in 1858-9.

Ryan Kelly contributed to this report.

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