Rep. Kevin Brady has emerged as the front-runner to replace House Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan if the top tax writer opts to succeed Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
As Ryan weighs a possible run, Brady, R-Texas, made clear on Tuesday that he was monitoring the fluid situation. Ryan late Tuesday detailed a series of conditions he said would have to be met, leaving the door open to a possible bid to replace Boehner, who has announced plans to step down.
"I will support his decision whatever it is. Until he reaches his decision, I will remain silent," Brady said in an interview Tuesday.
Longtime political observers such as Ryan Ellis, tax policy director for the conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, say the 10-term lawmaker would be a top choice to succeed Ryan if the Wisconsin Republican opts to climb the House leadership ladder.
Brady, who currently is chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, was a point person for this year's overhaul of Medicare physician reimbursement rates (PL 114-10) and could point to that role as an example of his ability to deliver results, Ellis said. Replacing the formula that determined doctor fees eliminated the near-annual exercise in which Congress passed temporary "doc fix" bills averting scheduled payment cuts.
Brady now is shifting his focus to the way Medicare pays other health providers and wants to revamp the payment system for hospitals and post-acute care.
“I don’t think the agenda would be all that different," Ellis said. "He is somebody who tends to work on issues that are not at 40,000-foot level. Ryan might work on a comprehensive Medicare reform, something very large. Brady would focus on things that are substantive but a little more discrete in terms of scope, such as dealing with hospitals and the way they interact with the federal government."
Brady is one of the most prominent supporters of the “Fair Tax” proposal that would eliminate the IRS and replace most federal taxes with a national sales tax. Though he supports limiting tax breaks and lowering tax rates, he also backs attempts to use the tax code to incentivize particular activities, including a push to permanently renew an expired tax credit for businesses’ research and development expenses. Brady also engineered the 2004 revival of the state and local sales tax deduction and now vows to extend it.
He may not be the only subcommittee chairman looking to succeed Ryan, though. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, who heads the Ways and Means Trade panel, on Tuesday indicated he would be interested in pursuing the full committee chairmanship but declined to elaborate on his plans. "There's not an opening, is there? . . . Let's talk when there is," the eight-term lawmaker said.
Tiberi has longstanding ties to Boehner and Ryan. He played a leading role persuading House Republicans to give President Barack Obama fast track authority, allowing him to submit trade legislation to the Congress for an up or down vote. Those efforts paid off when the House narrowly approved Trade Promotion Authority on June 18, followed by Senate passage.
Among other top House tax writers, Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., chairman of the Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee, said he was not seeking the full committee chairman's gavel, adding that Brady and other more senior subcommittee chairmen would be at the front of the line to succeed Ryan. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who is chairman of House Intelligence, declined to say whether he would be interested in the Ways and Means top job if it becomes vacant.
Brady, the No. 3 Republican on Ways and Means in seniority, lost out to Ryan in a brief head-to-head competition to succeed Dave Camp, R-Mich., as chairman after the 2014 elections. They were the only candidates to make pitches to the GOP steering committee. But immediately after the presentations, Brady dropped out of the race and endorsed Ryan, clearing the way for him to become the top tax writer without opposition.
Boustany said a bid by Ryan for the speakership – and a possible competition for the Ways and Means chairmanship – could complicate efforts to finish a number of must-pass items, including tax provisions for a six-year surface transportation bill and a possible package of tax break extensions.
“It would certainly affect the committee operation to some extent,” Boustany said.
Last year, Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, the No. 2 Republican on the panel in seniority, voiced interest in a potential run for full committee chairman but then passed.
An earlier version of this story misrepresented Tiberi's living arrangements.