What does the future hold for the Valley’s most senior Republican in Congress?
As House Republicans seek to pivot away from the post-electoral battles that hounded the chamber through President Joe Biden’s inauguration, work at reclaiming a majority in the lower Chamber has resumed.
For Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Tulare), flipping the House means one thing: a bona fide shot at capturing a Congressional coup de grace – the gavel of the House Ways and Means Committee.
For the Tulare legislator, it’s a chance to join the ranks of his mentor, former Rep. Bill Thomas (R–Bakersfield), who led the committee tasked with managing the wide array of tax policy along with entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment relief.
The committee was the driving force behind the 2017 overhaul of the Federal tax code, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
The chairman who shepherded that effort, Rep. Kevin Brady (R–Tex.), is term-limited from serving another term as Chairman under Republican conference rules.
But tax reform is merely the tip of the iceberg. Ways and Means regularly finds itself in the middle of major policy debates due to its broad purview.
A House majority, likely with Nunes’ neighbor – House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–Bakersfield) as Speaker, offers the 10-term Congressman an opportunity to shape the debate like never before.
The one-two punch of Nunes and McCarthy in top leadership roles isn’t lost on Valley business leaders and farmers.
“[Nunes] has had a fast-rising career in Washington,” former Fresno Chamber of Commerce chief Al Smith said in an interview on Tuesday. “In this area, we’ve benefited from that friendship and connectivity [between Nunes and McCarthy].”
As for securing the top post on the powerful Congressional panel, Smith noted the impact of having leaders with first-hand knowledge of the issues facing the region.
“Should Devin become the Chairman of the committee, it would obviously be a great boon to him and, I think, a great boon to our community to have someone who understands the nuances of the Central Valley being able to influence policy at that level.”
Thomas’ tenure as Ways and Means chairman briefly overlapped with the start of Smith’s time as President of the Fresno Chamber, between 2006 and 2007.
At the time, the Fresno business group was not as heavily-involved in Federal issues. In the ensuing 15 years, things have changed greatly.
Tulare Farmer Brian Watte, who has known Nunes dating back to adolescence, concurred that the possible new role would serve the region well.
“Devin’s just such a strong proponent of our area,” he said. “Ways and Means, if not the most, is one of the most powerful committees in Congress. It would give him a higher stage to speak from and be heard from and help his constituents.”
Nunes currently serves as the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where he became a national figure over investigations into the unmasking of Trump campaign and administration officials by the Obama Administration and alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Said Watte: “For Devin or any of these Congressmen, the higher-priority committees they can get on it’s nothing but good for all the folks back home.”