House Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady said Wednesday he'll retire after this Congress, a move that wasn't altogether a surprise given the Texas Republican is term-limited out of his role after next year.
The Houston-area lawmaker, who will serve out his 13th and final term, became chairman of the powerful Ways and Means panel in 2015 after his predecessor, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, was drafted by colleagues to replace outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
Brady was a driving force behind the 2017 tax overhaul, when Republicans muscled through the most sweeping changes in tax law since 1986, slashing corporate and individual rates and removing longstanding tax breaks from the code.
“I am most proud that the tax cuts lifted millions of Americans out of poverty,” Brady said in remarks Wednesday.
He also had a hand in a broad update of retirement savings law in late 2019, which he cited as another of his proudest achievements.
Brady is also a staunch advocate for free trade who pushed back against the Trump administration's more protectionist tendencies. He helped steer major trade accords through the House such as the Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2005; pacts with Panama, South Korea and Colombia in 2011; and most recently, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada accord that replaced the old North American Free Trade Agreement.
And as chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, Brady helped engineer a bipartisan law that finally got rid of the dreaded Medicare "sustainable growth rate" formula that led Congress to constantly enact "doc fixes" to keep physician reimbursements from being slashed.
Three-way race for GOP slot
Brady will hand over the reins to another panel Republican at a time when history, and likely redistricting, are on the GOP's side when it comes to potentially taking back the closely-divided House after the 2022 midterms. The president's party nearly always loses seats in midterm elections, and Democratic-leaning states are projected by many independent analysts to lose at least a few members when the House's 435 seats are reapportioned among the 50 states.
Brady, 66, said committee term limits played a role in his decision.
“I won’t be able to be chair the Ways and Means Committee in the next session when Republicans win back the majority,” Brady said in his remarks, carried live in his district at The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce in suburban Houston. “Did that factor into the decision? Yeah, some.”
Next in line to Brady on Ways and Means is California Rep. Devin Nunes, who's currently the top Republican on the Intelligence panel. He'd have to give up that position to make a play for Ways and Means, and observers say he hasn't been very involved in Ways and Means issues or deliberations in recent years.
Nunes is a prolific fundraiser who parlayed his defense of former President Donald Trump during various investigations and impeachment proceedings into a staggering $26.8 million haul during the last cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
A former Republican aide who spoke on condition of anonymity said Nunes is likely the favorite to replace Brady, citing his California connection to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who controls the most votes on the GOP Steering Committee.
Nunes' staff didn't respond to a request for comment. Another former GOP staffer with ties to the conference said Nunes remains "very interested" in the top slot at Ways and Means and could be considered the "front-runner" at the moment. But the aide said it wasn't a sure thing Nunes would get the nod, citing competition from others on the panel.
It's currently a three-way race to succeed Brady, with Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan, who is next in seniority after Nunes, putting his hat in the ring, an aide to Buchanan confirmed.
Nebraska's Adrian Smith, who's after Buchanan, is also in the running. “I want to honor Kevin Brady’s accomplishments," Smith said in a statement. "I plan to seek my colleagues’ support for the lead Republican spot.”
Without naming a successor, Brady pointed to a deep GOP bench on the committee, saying “our Republicans are incredibly talented.”
In 2020, Brady won Texas' 8th District, stretching northward from suburban Houston into open prairies, by 47 percentage points and Trump won the district by 43 points. But the district's lines are uncertain headed into the 2022 campaign. Under redistricting, Texas’ congressional map faces more change than others because the state is expected to pick up two or three seats.
Surrounding environs have gotten more Democratic in recent years, with President Joe Biden closing his party's gap with Trump in the Lone Star State and another Houston-area Republican, former Rep. John Culberson, losing to Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas, in the 2018 midterms.
Brady downplayed the notion that Trump's influence on his party was a factor in his decision.
“Given the times, I’m sure someone will say it’s Trump’s fault,” Brady said Wednesday. “Nonsense. I’m proud to have worked with the president and often with lawmakers of both parties.”
Brady also said he had "absolutely not" lost faith in the political system or lawmakers' ability to get things done in a bipartisan fashion.
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal called Brady’s retirement “a loss for both the Ways and Means Committee and Congress.” Pointing to the retirement bill and other legislation, Neal, D-Mass., said that he and Brady had been able “to overcome ideological differences time and time again to partner on behalf of the American people."
The congenial Brady, a long-suffering Houston Astros fan, is well-liked on both sides of the aisle. "He’s conservative as hell. But the politics aside, he’s a very nice guy,” former congressman and liberal Democrat Jim McDermott of Washington has said.
Brady grew up in South Dakota. When he was 12, his father, a lawyer, was shot and killed in a state courtroom by the deranged spouse of a client. His mother was suddenly raising five children on her own.
“She taught us to be independent, to be optimistic, have faith in God, give back to our community,” Brady has said. “Much of what I am today, I owe to her.”
Brady moved to Texas in 1982 to work for chambers of commerce in that state. He served six years in the Texas House, which led straight to his 1996 run for the U.S. House when eight-term Republican Jack Fields opted to retire.
Since that contentious first House election Brady has never received less than 67 percent of the vote for either primary or general elections — except for 2016 when he won a four-way GOP primary with 53 percent of the vote.
Whatever Brady's future plans might be, securing employment is unlikely to be a concern.
"Hiring a former Ways and Means chair is like catching the leprechaun at the end of the rainbow, especially when there are likely major changes to the tax system proposed," said Ivan Adler, a longtime K Street headhunter.
Kate Ackley contributed to this report.