Tax Analysts Blog

New GOP W&M Members Send a Mixed Signal

Posted on Nov 24, 2014

The House Ways and Means Committee is undergoing a major transition. Committee Chair Dave Camp is leaving Congress at the end of the year and will be replaced by Rep. Paul Ryan. That means the end of an era and a possible major reshuffling of committee priorities. But Ways and Means is also getting four new Republican faces. The backgrounds of the new members don't really send a clear signal on what to expect from the House on tax policy next year.

The four new Republicans on Ways and Means will be Kristi L. Noem of South Dakota, Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania, George Holding of North Carolina, and Jason Smith of Missouri. All are relative newcomers to Congress. Noem won her seat in 2010, while the others all joined Congress after the 2012 elections (with Smith taking former Rep. Jo Ann Emerson's place in mid-2013). Two of the members come from districts formerly controlled by Democrats (Meehan took over Rep. Joe Sestak's seat, while Holding took over for Rep. Brad Miller).

Noem has the highest profile of all the new members. As a freshman, she was named to House leadership, and there was widespread speculation that she might run for the Senate. Noem declined to challenge Mike Rounds in the Senate primaries, and the former South Dakota governor went on to easily win. In some ways, Noem's decision to pass on a relatively safe Senate seat was a surprise. She is popular with the Tea Party, and some hard-line conservatives weren't satisfied with Rounds. Ultimately, heavy establishment support for Rounds probably deterred the congresswoman. There are rumors that Noem is less interested in being in the Senate than in winning her state's governorship in 2016.

Meehan's selection to Ways and Means is probably designed to help him win reelection in what will be a tougher climate for Republicans in 2016. He represents a district near Philadelphia that was held by Democrats from 2007 through 2011. Redistricting had made the seat more favorable for Republicans, but it is the type of seat Democrats will have to be competitive in if they want to retake the House.

Noem and Meehan have introduced one tax-related bill during their time in the House. Noem's would have repealed the ethanol credit in favor of permanent extension of other alternative fuel incentives, while Meehan wanted to create an increased deduction for start-up businesses. Noem has been slightly more vocal about the need for tax reform.

Neither Holding nor Smith has made a significant name for himself on tax issues. Holding is relatively moderate for a Republican from North Carolina, while Smith is more conservative than Emerson, who left Congress to chair a lobbying organization.

Considering that the House turned more to the right after the 2014 elections, it might have seemed inevitable that Ways and Means would also take a more conservative line. But that doesn't appear to be the case. Ryan is certainly more in the mainstream of GOP economic and tax policy than Camp, but Noem is the only new member with anything more than passing connections to the Tea Party. And Noem probably has her eye on a higher office and isn't likely to sound like Rep. Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin during her moments in the public eye.

Ultimately, the selection of Ryan instead of Rep. Kevin Brady is a lot more important to the future of Ways and Means than the appointment of Noem, Holding, Meehan, and Smith. No one really knows what Ryan will do as chair, or even how focused he will be on the committee if he decides to run for president. Optimistic observers might say that fewer hard-liners on the committee is a good thing for tax reform work, but it's hard to divine too much from the new members' individual records or their campaigns.

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