Acting chairman Levin vows to take action on Ways and Means panel

Newly minted Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sandy Levin is planning to wake the powerful panel out of its slumber.

Levin is promising more action from the panel, which has been quiet under Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), whose temporary resignation has made Levin the acting chairman.

“We’re going to be scheduling more and more hearings,” Levin (D-Mich.) told The Hill after he was named chairman. 

Other than a February oversight hearing on President Obama’s 2011 budget, the full committee has not gathered since Oct. 1, according to the Ways and Means website. 

Mark ups have also been virtually nonexistent with only two taking place in the past 14 months. 

“They might as well turned the lights out this past year and a half,” Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), the panel’s fourth-most ranking Republican, told The Hill. “It’s [committee action] has been a wet noodle for much of the past year and a half, particularly recently.”

High profile legislation like the $15 billion jobs bill that passed the House on Thursday completely bypassed Ways and Means, even though its centerpiece provision, a $13 billion tax credit for businesses adding workers, fell squarely within the committee’s jurisdiction.

The tax credit was the source of much consternation among members who doubted its ability to generate jobs. A shortage in customer demand also had business leaders and economists questioning its effectiveness. 

Concerns over the tax break erupted into a political dilemma for House leadership as niche groups became publicly defiant and slowed the bill’s progress. The Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and infrastructure advocates criticized the bill for being too small to stimulate job creation.  The legislation eventually passed, 217-201, with 35 Democrats opposing the bill.  

Rep. Jim McDermott (Wash.), the fourth-ranking Democrat on Ways and Means, suggests the trouble could have been avoided if the bill has gone through his panel. 

He told The Hill that politically damaging displays of disobedience might have been avoided if the legislation was vetted.

“If you can’t have a hearing and let people come in and talk about it [the tax credit] – for or against – and learn something and maybe change a few things, you’re not using the process in the way it was intended,” he said. “I’m one who hopes Sandy will try and re-establish more of that.”

On Friday, Levin signaled he intends to do just that. 

“Let me put it this way, my job now is to take the gavel, to hit the table hard, hit the place running and I’m doing that,” he told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. 

Levin also said that the Congress needs collegiality, and that he thinks the Ways and Means Committee has that. 

A more junior Ways and Means member, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), hopes Levin will interject the committee into the jobs dialogue taking place in Congress. 

“I’ve got 3 issues: jobs, jobs, jobs,” she told The Hill. “We have to get this economy moving and people back to work. I’ve got one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and the highest foreclosure rate – the very highest.”

Fellow Michigander and Ways and Means ranking Republican Dave Camp called on Levin to make the committee an active participant in helping to turn the nation’s economy around.

“Given the state of the economy, our nation needs this Congress and especially the Ways and Means Committee to fire on all cylinders,” he said in prepared remarks.

Levin said committee members would come together Tuesday afternoon for a strategy meeting and that the full committee would take up currency reform Thursday. There is no official word on either meeting, however. Committee Republicans normally receive a week’s notice before a hearing and have yet to be informed about Thursday’s gathering.

Republican members like Brady will be watching to see if Levin ramps up committee activity or maintains the status quo. The Texan contends that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has run the committee since Rangel became embroiled in possible ethics violations.

“I think people are watching to see if Sandy recaptures the seat of the committee,” he said, adding, “Sandy’s approach has been very slow, very cautious, very much from the direction of his timetable. It will be interesting to see if that same approach occurs on the committee."