Jan 28, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Quiet rebellion threatens House GOP chair over surprise tax deal

Reps. Vern Buchanan, left, and Jason Smith. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House GOP's top tax writer doesn't just face blowback over the surprise deal he unveiled this month: Now the background chatter suggests Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) could lose his gavel.

Why it matters: Senior Republican sources said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) — who narrowly lost a heated three-way race for the position in 2023 — has been urged to challenge House Ways and Means chairman for the top job.

  • Removing a sitting chairman before the end of their three-term limit would be unusual.
  • The last sitting chair to be demoted before their time was in 2005.

Zoom in: Multiple GOP lawmakers fumed about how negotiations on the bipartisan tax deal were handled.

  • GOP critics said key members weren't consulted on negotiations. Some members learned of the deal on social media, a senior committee source told Axios.
  • "I don't know who the f*** he's dealing with," one lawmaker told Axios. "How does Jason Smith announce the deal before the speaker knows about it?"
  • "Jason negotiated with the Senate and the Dems. For some reason Republicans weren't included in his negotiation," the lawmaker said.

Behind the scenes: Axios spoke with members who had a range of issues with the deal. Top complaints included:

  • The lack of a change to the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap.
  • Others cited the Wall Street Journal editorial board's criticisms of the language on bolstering the child tax credit.

What they're saying: Frustrated members argued that the panel has shifted away from its bipartisan and inclusive nature.

  • "[T]here was a lot more member involvement and a lot of subcommittee hearings, a lot of things of that nature, which we just don't seem to have now," one lawmaker said.
  • "People are concerned that we're not really doing a good job with legislation, that we're spending more time on oversight with the whole committee," another member said.

Between the lines: With former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and top lieutenants no longer influencing committee assignments, some members said the dynamics could be more favorable for a potential challenger.

  • 'I'm sure Vern is hearing this [complaints about the panel] and most would tell you that they don't believe that Jason would have ever been Ways and Means chair if not for McCarthy," the source said.

The intrigue: Lawmakers speculated that Buchanan's recent fundraising efforts for House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) could signal that he's laying the groundwork for a bid against Smith.

  • Buchanan hosted one of the first fundraisers for Johnson, invited key members to a fundraising event in Aspen, Colorado, and is set to host a fundraiser for Johnson on March 21.
  • But Smith has also proved to be a fundraising powerhouse, raising more than $1.3 million for the NRCC and giving nearly $600,000 to individual candidates this cycle.

The other side: Smith allies noted the members who pick committee assignments are unlikely to remove a sitting chairman.

  • "I think that [a bid against him is] unlikely to be successful — I've never seen it happen midterm," one senior GOP lawmaker told Axios.
  • "Chairman Smith is leading the Ways & Means Committee to get things done and deliver real results for the American people. This legislation is a huge win," said Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.).
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