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Briefings: Richie’s New Buddy on Ways & Means Is Revealed…

Jason Smith

Chairman Smith looking for a ways to GOP means? (via wikipedia)

Now that Republicans in the House of Representatives has elected a speaker—finally—the GOP could fill its open committee chairs. The task usually occurs shortly after an election. It had been put off as negotiations within the Republican caucus went on (and on). That had no effect on Worcester Rep James McGovern who knew Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole who take the Rules chair. Yet, Springfield Congressman Richard Neal had no idea to whom he would hand the Ways & Means gavel.

On Monday, that changed. A House Republican panel selected Missouri Congressman Jason Smith, formerly the top Republican on the Budget committee, to chair Ways & Means. The committee has a sprawling brief covering healthcare, Social Security, trade and taxation. Smith struck a mixed note, invoking classic conservative bugaboos but also some issues that may find support across the House.

“It is deeply humbling and an honor to be selected by my colleagues to serve as the next Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee,” Smith said in a statement. “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.”

The top Republican spot on Ways & Means was open after Texas Congressman and then-Ranking member Kevin Brady retired. Brady likely would not have become chair in the new Congress anyway due to GOP caucus term limits.

Smith, who represents a largely rural district in the Show Me State’s southeast, beat out Florida Rep Vern Buchanan and Nebraska Congressman Adrian Smith for the chairmanship. Before the vote, the Nebraskan Smith had long appeared to be a longshot, while Buchanan had an edge. Press accounts of the race say he plugged his business record. The Missourian Smith struck a more populist tone.

Indeed, Smith’s victory statement bemoaned the $80 billion Democrats had put into the Internal Revenue Service. The money will help the IRS enforce tax laws against the wealthy, counter tax dodging and review complex returns. Later on Monday, the House seek to claw back that money. The legislation, which would raise the deficit as tax enforcement would fall, will go nowhere in the Democratic Senate.

However, other priorities of Smith’s, including reshoring jobs and supply chains in the United States, will find support among Democrats as much as some Republicans.

Neal, now the ranking member on Ways & Means, cited no specific issues when congratulating Smith on his win. Still, his congratulations suggested he had found common ground with Smith before.

Ways & Means

Rep. Neal with Chairman Smith’s predecessor Kevin Brady (WMP&I)

“Leading the Ways and Means Committee is an awesome responsibility, and I congratulate Jason on his selection as the new Chairman,” Neal said. “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.”

While Smith likely meant it, he also seemingly threatened Democrats with a good time. He suggesting the child tax credit should not have expired and that he would like to revive it.

“Domestically, we cannot expect our labor force to recover if Congress makes work less valuable than a government check, as Democrats did when they dismantled the Child Tax Credit in 2021,” Smith said.

Democrats did not dismantle it. House Democrats voted to extend it, but the Senate refused.

Smith made somewhat more salacious claims, too. He said he would conduct oversight hearings on the IRS. Specifically, he alleged the agency  was leaking private information and targeting political enemies under President Joe Biden. The IRS nonprofit scandal happened a decade ago. Moreover, it was the Trump IRS that had faced accusations of targeting political foes.

Nevertheless, Neal was able to work with Brady. Despite the chaos of the Republican speakership election, if Smith is earnest in his statement, he may be able to work with Neal, too.