New Ways & Means chairman gives Speaker Ryan a tax-reform partner

One of Rep. Kevin Brady's ongoing pursuits has been eliminating the estate tax

Nov 19, 2015 @ 1:48 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

The promotion of Rep. Kevin Brady to chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee gives new House Speaker Paul Ryan a key partner on tax-reform efforts, according to experts.

Selected by his Republican colleagues earlier this month to head the panel, Mr. Brady, R-Texas, succeeds Mr. Ryan, R-Wisc., in the role. The committee has jurisdiction over tax, trade and entitlement policy.

The gavel is being handed to someone who, like Mr. Ryan, has made tax-reform a legislative signature.

“He has been very active in tax reform and as chairman, he'll advance the tax-reform debate in 2016,” said Marc Gerson, a partner at Miller & Chevalier and a former Republican tax counsel on the committee.

In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Brady made tax-reform a priority.

“Over the coming months, we are going to take real steps toward fixing our broken tax code,” he wrote. “America needs a simpler, fairer, flatter tax code that's built for growth.”

For the past three Congresses, Mr. Brady has written a bill that would eliminate the estate tax. This year, the measure was approved by the House. With Mr. Brady at the Ways and Means helm, it's likely the levy will be included in comprehensive tax reform.

“When we get to that point, estate tax repeal will be a top-tier issue,” said Palmer Schoening, chairman of the Family Business Coalition.

Although Mr. Ryan will not be as hands-on in policy making as speaker, he will be a powerful ally for Mr. Brady when it comes to overhauling the tax code.

“By nature, [Mr. Ryan] is going to spend more time on this than [former Speaker John] Boehner,” said Tim Steffen, director of financial planning at Robert W. Baird & Co. “If he's able to work with someone who's equally as focused on taxes and budget issues, that makes me optimistic we'll see some activity in the future.”

Mr. Brady also has championed bills that would make permanent a tax credit for research and development and a tax deduction for state and local taxes. Those policies currently must be reauthorized annually as part of the so-called tax-extenders package.

There are more than 50 tax-extenders Congress must renew once again before the end of this year.

“Mr. Brady and Mr. Ryan are trying as hard as they possibly can to get a permanent extenders package passed,” Mr. Schoening said. “The question is whether the White House will change its position on making permanent business-tax extenders.”

The political reality of having a Democrat in the White House will limit what the two lawmakers can accomplish.

“It's more likely we get some kind of short-term extension,” Mr. Schoening said. “Two years is the most likely fix at this point.”

Mr. Brady ran against Mr. Ryan in early 2014 to replace former chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., who had retired from Congress. Mr. Ryan prevailed and Mr. Brady gracefully bowed out, a move that has built good will between the two.

“They have a good relationship,” Mr. Gerson said.

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