House GOP panel endorses Texan for Ways and Means chair

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A panel of top House Republicans endorsed Texas GOP Rep. Kevin Brady on Wednesday to chair the influential Ways and Means committee, all but assuring that the 10-term veteran lawmaker will win the coveted post.

All 246 House Republicans meet Thursday to formally elect a chairman for the panel, which was headed until last week by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, the new speaker. Ryan backed Brady for the post, said one lawmaker, and Brady's victory underscored Ryan's clout in this honeymoon period of his speakership.

Assuming his selection is ratified Thursday, Brady would be the seventh member of Texas' 36-member delegation, the House's second largest, to chair a committee.

Asked before his endorsement was announced whether Texas' domination of so many committees might hurt his chances to chair Ways and Means, Brady said: "We're not the party of quotas. We're the party of merit."

The soft-spoken Brady, 60, was first elected to the House in 1996 from the Houston suburbs. Considered a pro-business conservative, he's been influential on trade and since 2013 has chaired the Ways and Means health subcommittee.

"I'm a pro-growth conservative advancing a pro-growth agenda," Brady said. He said he planned to push measures to overhaul the tax code, open more markets to trade, strengthen Social Security and Medicare and replace President Barack Obama's health care law.

Brady won the backing Wednesday of the 32-member House Republican Steering Committee over Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, an eight-term House veteran. Brady prevailed in a secret ballot at a closed-door meeting, with the vote tally unannounced.

The speaker usually dominates the Steering committee, on which he has five votes. Since helping to depose John Boehner, R-Ohio, as speaker, the rebellious House Freedom Caucus has demanded that the speaker's influence on the Steering committee be weakened, and Ryan is considering still-undefined changes.

One Steering committee member, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., said Ryan spoke up Wednesday on Brady's behalf.

"He just said from his experience of being the chairman, that he felt like Kevin was the guy," said Westmoreland. "And I'm sure that carried a lot of weight."

Ways and Means is one of Congress' most powerful committees. It oversees taxes, trade, Social Security, welfare and many health programs.

The panel's top Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, said Brady combines "strong views on issues with friendliness" and expressed hope for "bipartisan action on the big issues."

After Brady's endorsement, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., tweeted his congratulations to his housemate, adding, "Don't think this gets you out of doing the dishes though!" The two men share a Capitol Hill town house with two other GOP lawmakers.