Thomas Selected as 107th Congress Ways and Means Chair
House Republican leaders on Jan. 4 selected "independent-minded" Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) over the more tenured and "conservative" Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.) to chair the Ways and Means Committee, the Wall Street Journal reports. The committee will handle many of President-elect George W. Bush's "top legislative priorities," including Medicare, Social Security and tax reforms (Murray, Wall Street Journal, 1/5). Thomas, moving into his 12th term in the House, has focused more on Medicare and health care in "recent years," but is "likely" to address Bush's "sweeping" tax cut plan first (AP/Baltimore Sun, 1/5). Thomas indicated that his "first priority" as committee chair is to "restructure Ways and Means so it can best handle the complex legislation headed its way," including Medicare reform and a prescription drug benefit for seniors. Thomas, who has been known for his "impatience," and "hot temper," downplayed his authority by vowing the committee will be "part of a team" that includes the White House, the Republican leadership, the Senate Finance Committee and Democrats serving on both congressional tax writing panels. Thomas said, "I don't think it serves any purpose to stake out any position right now. ... [t]his is a process. The key is to visit with everyone and find common themes." According to the Journal, Thomas took a "similar inclusive approach" on the issues of Medicare reform and other health care legislation as former Ways and Means health subcommittee chair.
Thomas 'Edges Out' Crane
Thomas's reputation as a "hard worker" and "master of legislative arcana" helped him win the position over the more senior Rep. Crane, who is entering his 17th term in the House (Wall Street Journal, 1/5). According to "aides and members on both sides of the aisle," Thomas is viewed as "someone more likely to compromise with Democrats in order to move legislation" (Alvarez, New York Times, 1/5). In the campaign to win the Ways and Means position, both Thomas and Crane cited their efforts to raise funds for other Republicans, with Thomas "besting" Crane by contributing $410,000 to candidates and party committees, including more than $250,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, during the 2000 election season. According to a study released Jan. 4 by the Center for Responsive Politics, Crane contributed about half as much as Thomas (Simon, Los Angeles Times, 1/5).