The race to replace Paul Ryan as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee is on and it is shaping up to be a two-man battle between Republican Reps. Kevin Brady and Pat Tiberi.
Ryan moved closer to securing the speaker’s gavel after he won the support, if not the official endorsement, on Wednesday of the hard line conservatives who make up the House Freedom Caucus.
Ryan’s likely ascension to speaker has touched off a rare mid-session race for a committee chairmanship, one that oversees the vast terrain of tax policy and entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security.
Neither Brady (R-Texas) nor Tiberi (R-Ohio) would confirm they will attempt to replace Ryan, but both have quietly begun laying the groundwork for a run at the gavel, according to several aides and lobbyists.
While Brady is viewed as the favorite due to his seniority on the panel, the race will likely come down to whether there’s room for a moderate like Tiberi in a conference being strong-armed by a cadre of conservatives.
Brady, who chairs the panel’s health subcommittee, is a conservative who is viewed as an effective member of the committee and takes policy issues seriously. But he has a meager fundraising record and was already passed over once for the gavel when Ryan leap-frogged him at the beginning of this Congress.
Tiberi, who chairs the trade subcommittee, is an Ohio moderate with close ties to outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the business community, which has helped him with fundraising. He has consistently raised more than $3 million each election cycle since 2010, nearly doubling the House average at least twice during that period.
Brady declined on Wednesday to say if will run to replace Ryan.
“First things first, we need to unite behind Paul Ryan,” Brady said. “He is our current chairman and great job and once that’s decided I’ll make a decision.”
Tiberi dodged questions on the subject as well.
“Right now Congressman Tiberi is focused on electing Chairman Ryan as a unifying Speaker of the House,” said his spokeswoman, Breann Gonzalez.
The next chairman will have to work closely with Ryan, who has made overhauling the tax code and entitlement programs the cornerstone of his career. Ryan can be expected to continue to show a deep interest in the committee’s work — he has called being Ways and Means chairman his dream job.
He has not given an indication of whom he would like to replace him.
There’s a lot to love about being chairman of Ways and Means. Not only does the committee oversee some of the biggest issues in Congress, it also opens the doors for a flood of campaign cash.
There are several issues that the committee will have to tackle during the remainder of this Congress. This list includes, consideration of the contentious Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, a looming Medicare premium increase and a potentially nasty fight to shore up the Social Security Disability Fund.
The vastness of the committee’s jurisdiction makes it a focal point for the lobbying industry and a fundraising spigot for the chairman.
Lobby firms hire teams of experts who focus on Ways and Means and industries throw millions at lobbying the committee. Ryan’s predecessor, former Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), was such a fundraising powerhouse that he out raised the House average in 2014 by nearly $400,000 despite announcing his retirement in March of that year.
Assuming Ryan prevails in the Oct. 29 speaker’s election, the race to replace him as chairman will officially begin. Tiberi and Brady would then have to convince members of the House Steering Committee that they are up to the job. That committee is made up of Republican leaders, committee chairmen, representatives from 12 geographic regions and representatives from small states, and some recently elected members.
The composition of that committee is subject to change, but right now the speaker gets five votes, the majority leader gets two and every other member gets one. The steering committee currently has a strong contingent of Boehner loyalists who would likely back Tiberi, but all that could change if Ryan takes the speaker’s gavel.
Brady has his own ties to leadership — he is roommates in Washington with House GOP Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Several lobbyists said that along with his seniority, Brady’s conservative bona fides and tight ties to the Texas delegation, the largest in the House GOP conference, give him an edge in the race.
Brady’s main focus in recent years has been on attacking the Affordable Care Act. He also shares Ryan’s big-picture approach to talking about the economy and is the former chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.
Tiberi was once seen as a favorite to climb the committee’s ranks due to his close relationship with former Chairman Camp. The two worked closely together when Tiberi led the subcommittee that oversees tax policy. Tiberi is an expert on business tax issues and has been a champion of expanding expensing in the tax code. That has made him a favorite of traditional Republican friendly groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.
He has also shown a willingness to work with Democrats, such as Ways and Means colleague Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.)
But while being a moderate, business friendly Republican may have been advantageous in the past, it could now be what sinks Tiberi’s chances for the chairmanship as the House Republican Conference continues to swing further to the right.