WASHINGTON — Making the case to be selected for his dream job, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady talks about his seniority. But Brady, who has been in the U.S. House of Representatives for 18 years, says tenure alone does not make him the best candidate to chair the House committee tasked with writing the tax code.
“In this, case seniority equals experience,” he said Tuesday in an interview with The Texas Tribune. But, the Republican from The Woodlands added, “I love the fact that we’re a merit-based conference, and so I’m running on more than seniority.”
Brady announced Monday that he is running to succeed Rep. Paul Ryan at the helm of the House Committee on Ways and Means, assuming the Wisconsin Republican is elected speaker of the House later this week. In addition to emphasizing his seniority, Brady intends to lean on his success in fundraising for the GOP as well as his popularity with his colleagues to win this race.
Brady, who challenged Ryan for the chairmanship last year but exited the race late, faces competition from Rep. Pat Tiberi of Ohio and possibly Rep. Devin Nunes of California.
Brady says his subcommittee work, including as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s health subcommittee, prepared him to pick up Ryan's mantle mid-session.
"My pitch is that to advance Speaker Ryan's pro-growth agenda, we need a pro-growth conservative," Brady said. "A chairman of Ways and Means who has a proven record working throughout the conference on the big issues. And because of the circumstances, the next chairman will have to hit the ground running."
"It Touches Every Aspect of Your Life"
He also says that his past career as a chamber of commerce executive sparked the interest in tax policy that has helped make him a top chairman candidate.
“Ways and Means is the committee that tackles the big issues that affects people’s lives and their jobs in a major way," he said, arguing that the way taxes are crafted affect issues like Social Security, trade and Medicare.
“Basically, it touches every aspect of your life," he added.
But it might be his fundraising prowess that most helps his Ways and Means bid.
Early in the cycle, members are assigned dues to pay from their campaign accounts to the House Republican campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee. Brady has been a reliable fundraiser in this capacity, helping the GOP in getting and keeping the House majority.
In 2014, he received attention when he and his three roommates wagered house-cleaning duties over who could raise more money for the party's campaigns.
Chairmen have exceptionally high fundraising expectations, a point Brady noted Tuesday.
"Members want to make sure their committee chairmen are doing everything they can to return good members to the conference and also grow our conference," he said.
"So, for the last two years, for example, I’ve raised $4.6 million and at the NRCC, and with our Patriots — those are Republicans in very competitive seats — I’ve raised more than $2 million, which is nearly double Mr. Tiberi’s amount."
Tiberi responded in a statement: “I don’t know where he gets his numbers, but I’ll put my support for my colleagues over my entire career up against anyone’s.”
The exact dollar amount a member raises for the NRCC is not available to the public. And Tiberi is a strong fundraiser in his own right. In the first six months of this year, he transferred around $218,000 in campaign donations from his leadership political action committee to vulnerable Republicans, per his camp.
A "steering committee" of leadership officers, regional representatives and freshmen and sophomore Republicans will recommend a chairman. Then all House Republicans will vote on Ryan's replacement.
If Brady wins this race, he'll be the first Texan to run the committee since now-retired U.S. Rep. Bill Archer. Archer chaired the committee in the late 1990s, when Brady was a junior member of Congress.
Putting a Priority on Trade Deal
Brady argues that the new chairman will have to hit the ground running. One of the most immediate duties will be to finish Ryan's work on moving the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
"Texas is made for trade," Brady said, underscoring the issue's importance back home.
Brady would be the seventh Texan to chair a committee this session. While not a historical high for a state, the Brady run only emphasizes Texas' clout on Capitol Hill.
"We’re fortunate. We have a delegation that’s extremely talented," Brady said. "Many of them have worked their way up to be leaders of their committees."
But it's a finite moment of power, Brady warns, and his election will help stagger that power into the future.
"There are term limits ... of six years" for committee chairs, he said. "While Texas is well-positioned right now, term limits will take those chairmanships pretty rapidly over the next three years."
But the quantity of Texas chairmen could have its drawbacks for Brady. Some in GOP congressional politics are already asking: Why the need for so many Texans?
"That's an issue, I think, in all the committee chairmanship races," Brady said. "We've overcome that in the past simply because our candidates are proven leaders. They've got broad support throughout Republican conference. They've done their work. They've paid their dues ... and so we'll make that same case."
Brady is counting on unanimous support from the Texas Republicans, the largest state GOP voting bloc at 25 members. He’s also banking on the relationships he’s forged over his time.
One advantage for Brady might not have to do with the Capitol but with the diamond.
He is the second baseman and designated hitter for the Republican team in the annual Congressional baseball game. Around 33 House Republicans play on the team. He said he thought his place on the team could be a boost to his bid.
"It is, because you create friendships and a common bond," he said. "You work together, and so yeah, it is because of those relationships, it is helpful. Not that every person on the baseball team’s with you in a race like this, but you’ve got a special bond."
But if he wins the gavel, will he still have time for the team's early morning spring practice?
"I’m keeping my baseball glove oiled and ready."