Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to take over one of the most powerful committees in Congress could hit a snag when lawmakers return after the midterm elections.
Ryan, the Republican Party's candidate for vice president two years ago, has been telling colleagues for much of the past year that he wants to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in the new Congress next year. The post could provide a platform for the Wisconsin Republican to launch a possible bid for president in 2016.
But Ryan has competition from a formidable opponent, Rep. Kevin Brady, a senior Republican from Texas.
Brady said Friday that he plans to wage a "friendly" battle with Ryan for the job.
"I want to give my colleagues two good choices," Brady said in a telephone interview. "Paul Ryan is a terrific leader and he's a good friend."
The Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over the biggest economic issues facing the country: taxes, trade, Social Security, health care and social programs.
Brady's candidacy could force Ryan to spell out his 2016 intentions as early as November, if fellow Republicans raise concerns that a presidential bid could be a distraction to such an important committee. House committee chairmen will be named during the lame duck session of Congress following the election.
If Republicans keep control of the House, committee chairmen will be nominated by a GOP steering committee led by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The full House Republican conference generally approves the nominees.
Brady is a nine-term incumbent and the second most senior Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. He chairs the panel's health subcommittee.
"I'm prepared and qualified," Brady said, adding that he wants to focus on tax reform, Medicare fraud and improving Social Security's disability program.
Also important, Brady is part of the Texas delegation in the House, which boasts 24 Republicans, giving it a strong voice. Brady represents a solidly Republican district just north of Houston. He has a Libertarian opponent in the November election but there is no Democrat on the ballot.
Brady's Republican-friendly district has given him time to help fellow Republicans with their campaigns this year. That will be his focus until after the election, Brady said.
Ryan is right behind Brady in seniority on the Ways and Means Committee. Ryan is now chairman of the House Budget Committee, but he must step down from the post because House Republicans impose term limits on committee chairmen.
When asked about the competition to lead the Ways and Means Committee, Ryan's spokesman, Brian Bolduc, said, "Congressman Ryan is focused on his work at the House Budget Committee."
As Budget chairman, Ryan has made a name for himself as the main architect of several conservative House Republican budgets.
Many of Ryan's proposed spending cuts have never made it into law because of opposition from Senate Democrats and the Obama White House. But Ryan has gained a following, especially among conservatives, for his willingness to spell out difficult spending cuts.
On Ways and Means, the next chairman is expected to lead House Republican efforts to overhaul the nation's tax code, which politicians of many stripes agree is too complicated. If House Republicans offer an alternative to President Barack Obama's health law, the Ways and Means Committee could play a key role.
Also, Congress will soon have to deal with Social Security's disability program, which is facing a potential financial crisis in 2016.
All these issues offer pitfalls as well as opportunities for the next chairman of the Ways and Means committee. And consensus will be hard to come by, especially in the current partisan atmosphere.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., currently chairs the committee. He is retiring at the end of the year.
Camp worked for years to build a consensus around the idea of overhauling the tax code, lowering tax rates for everyone while making up the revenue by scaling back credits, deductions and exemptions. But after Camp unveiled a comprehensive plan in February, it went nowhere, despite House Republicans claiming to champion the issue.
Brady said Camp did important groundwork on the issue, giving the next committee chairman a good head start on the issue.
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