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New Ways and Means GOP members bring energy, agricultural focus

Bulked-up GOP ranks on powerful tax-writing panel say they'll keep rural interests top of mind

House Ways and Means Committee members take their seats for the panel’s organizing meeting in on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.
House Ways and Means Committee members take their seats for the panel’s organizing meeting in on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

​This is the first of a two-part series.

The House Ways and Means Committee under a new chairman and Republican majority is pledging to put rural communities and GOP priorities like a fossil fuel inclusive energy platform in the spotlight, and several new additions to the committee could be significant voices in those efforts.

Chairman Jason Smith pledged to represent rural regions like his own Missouri district when he won the gavel last month, and he’s taking the committee’s business on the road to states like West Virginia, where the panel held its first hearing this week. An energy policy that includes fossil fuels like coal and oil was a prominent feature of that hearing.

In all, Republicans added 10 Ways and Means members this year, who now hold a significant presence among the 25 GOP lawmakers on the influential panel, which oversees all tax and trade policy and a significant swath of health care and human services programs.

Several represent rural farming areas or have districts with ties to the energy sector that are likely to influence their work, according to interviews with all 10 lawmakers.

Elevating energy

Now the second Ohio Republican on Ways and Means, Rep. Mike Carey is a former coal industry lobbyist and executive who lists renewable energy and fossil fuels among issues important to Ohio he plans to take up.

He said he’ll push for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that includes renewables, nuclear power and fossil fuels with a focus on reducing dependency on foreign energy sources. Carey added that lawmakers must make sure banks will lend to the energy sector, as more large corporations pledge to incorporate concerns about climate change into their decision-making.

Rep. Mike Carey, R-Ohio, participates in the House Ways and Means Committee organizing meeting on Jan. 31. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Carey’s top donors last cycle —according to an OpenSecrets.org review of his campaign committee and leadership PAC receipts — include energy companies like Jennmar Corp., a Pittsburgh-based manufacturer of mining, engineering and construction equipment; Rosebud Mining Co., an Ohio and Pennsylvania coal miner; and Poet LLC, a South Dakota-based biofuel producer.

Beyond energy, transportation and manufacturing tax incentives could also be key issues for Carey, who pointed to new electric battery and microchip plants in or near his district. One, an Intel Corp. factory, was announced in anticipation of a semiconductor subsidy package enacted last summer.

Another new Ways and Means member, Beth Van Duyne, restored a second panel seat for Texas — the top energy-producing state, according to the Energy Information Administration, thanks to oil and gas drilling as well as wind-generated electricity. Van Duyne joined after former chairman and ranking member Kevin Brady retired at the end of last year.

Van Duyne said she wants to repeal a new fee on methane emissions from oil and gas facilities that was part of Democrats’ 2022 budget package, and amend trade rules to allow more crude oil exports.

“As you know, it’s Texas. [The] energy sector is a very large part of our economy,” she said. “We’re fighting right now for the sector and against quite honestly the hostilities that the Biden administration has placed against that industry.”

Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, speaks during a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Van Duyne’s district spans an area on the north side of Dallas, Irving and Fort Worth and is home to a wide range of large companies. American Airlines Group Inc. — a top donor to her campaign last cycle, according to OpenSecrets — is headquartered in her district as are Energy Transfer LP, a natural gas pipeline and processing company, and Tenet Healthcare Corp.

Exxon Mobil Corp. and pharmaceutical wholesaler McKesson Corp. are based close to Van Duyne’s district, as is Celanese Corp., a chemical company also among her top donors.

Van Duyne listed other areas of focus including trade, bringing manufacturing jobs back from abroad and extending lapsing provisions of Republicans’ 2017 tax law.

Rep. Claudia Tenney, who represents upstate New York, is joining a handful of blue-state Republicans new to Ways and Means.

Her district includes all of New York’s remaining nuclear power plants, three sites near the shores of Lake Ontario that can together produce electricity to power more than 3.3 million homes, according to operator Constellation Energy Corp.

Tenney said her state is pushing too quickly to meet climate goals but that nuclear power will present an opportunity for supplying baseload power, which is the minimum a grid needs.

“I’m a very strong advocate for energy and for having smart energy policy,” she said. “And those are going to be things we’re going to look to incentivize also on Ways and Means.”

Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol to call for the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Tenney said last month she had recently met with the CEO of Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Corp., which says the energy it produces is 90 percent carbon-free and includes nuclear, hydroelectric, wind and solar power along with some oil and natural gas. She pointed to opportunities in new technologies like hydrogen power.

“There’s so many things that we should be exploring in technology that we can do, and that’s happening in New York,” Tenney said.

She’s among the lead backers of a bipartisan bill in the last Congress that aimed to modernize the power sector and slash carbon dioxide emissions, and she’s backed bills that aim to boost hydropower and nuclear energy.

Along with energy, Tenney plans to focus on tax and trade with her experience as a tax lawyer and running a family printing and newspaper business, and given her district’s farming and industrial background.

Tenney pinpointed estate taxes that apply to inherited assets as an area she wants to revisit. A larger exemption from the tax expires after 2025 under Republicans 2017 tax law, and Tenney is among GOP lawmakers who’ve proposed eliminating estate taxes altogether.

Tenney in the past has found common ground with the top Democrat on the Tax Subcommittee, California Rep. Mike Thompson. The pair have been friends since her first term, according to Tenney, and have joined caucuses together and kept in touch.

She said she’s part of a “Reagan-O’Neill” group of Democrats and Republicans that view themselves as principled members of their parties who still want to find common ground. While Thompson isn’t currently in the group, Tenney said she’d enjoy working with him as part of that effort.

Rural roots

Two of the other Ways and Means appointees align with another policy area likely to be a focus under Smith’s leadership: aiding farming and rural communities.  Their voices are likely to echo some of Smith’s priorities and his Midwestern background.

Iowa Rep. Randy Feenstra pointed to his desire to join Ways and Means for his state’s farmers and small businesses. He said trade is a top priority, and he hopes to play a role leading efforts to expand export markets.

Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, arrives for the House Ways and Means Committee organizing meeting on Jan. 31. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The tax issues Feenstra plans to focus on are in line with that agricultural viewpoint: preserving “stepped-up basis” that resets the value of assets when they’re inherited, so that heirs don’t face steep capital gains taxes; “like-kind” exchanges of similar property without realization of capital gains that would trigger tax; and immediate tax deductions when newly-purchased equipment, machinery and similar assets are put into use.

He has tangible tax experience too and cited his work as chair of the Iowa Senate’s Ways and Means Committee, where he wrote a major corporate and individual income tax cut package.

Iowa was the second-highest agriculture producing state by cash receipts in 2021 and the top corn, pork and egg producer by volume, according to the Agriculture Department. It’s the second-largest agricultural exporter. 

Feenstra’s top donors last cycle, according to OpenSecrets data, include Versova Management, a top egg producer with Iowa farms; Iowa Select Farms, a leading pork producer with 800 farms in Iowa, according to the company’s website; as well as Poet, a top producer of corn-based ethanol.

Also joining from the Midwest is Rep. Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota, who represents an agricultural district and pointed to her desire to join Ways and Means to boost rural communities.

She plans a similar focus on opening export markets and limiting taxes on agriculture and inherited farms.

Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., participates in the House Ways and Means Committee organizing meeting on Jan. 31. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“We talk a lot about having young farmers involved and a lot of… the estate taxes hinder that,” Fischbach said. “So we’ll be looking at that to make sure that we’re not hindering … the ability of young farmers to get in and the cost to them.”

She also pointed to telehealth access as a priority. Access to remote medical care expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic and has bipartisan support, and it’s a significant issue in rural areas where there’s often less access to in-person care.

Fischbach pointed to telehealth and making permanent provisions that broaden access as an area she believes lawmakers can successfully act on this year, even with a divided Congress.

“I think that’s a real opportunity for bipartisanship,” she said.

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