Feeling at home with Ways and Means

Feeling at home with Ways and Means
© Greg Nash

David Stewart, the new staff director for the House Ways and Means Committee, has a long history with the powerful panel.

Stewart’s first congressional job was an internship with a Ways and Means member, and he later handled many of the issues in the committee’s portfolio for future Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Dem says marijuana banking bill will get House vote this spring Trump appears alongside Ocasio-Cortez on Time 100 list MORE (R-Ohio).

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“I’ve always liked Ways and Means because it is the epitome of the institution within the institution,” he said. “It’s always got strong members, a really broad issue base of really important issues that affect every American.”

Stewart, 39, began his new position in November, shortly after Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyTreasury to miss Dem deadline for Trump tax returns Treasury expected to miss Dem deadline on Trump tax returns Mnuchin tells Congress it's 'premature' to talk about Trump tax returns decision MORE (R-Texas) took over for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE (R-Wis.) as the committee’s chairman. 

Brady has “big priorities,” Stewart said, including tax reform, advancing trade policy such as President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership and developing a Republican alternative to ObamaCare.

Stewart, no stranger to Capitol Hill or the committee’s expansive work, could prove instrumental for Brady’s agenda.

While still in college, Stewart, who “grew up mostly in California,” interned for then-Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.), a Ways and Means member. Following his graduation from San Diego State University in 2000, Stewart returned to English’s office and worked there until the congressman lost his reelection bid in 2008.

“I worked for Mr. English for many years, holding pretty much every position from that first internship all the way up to deputy chief of staff, and got to work on a lot of the Ways and Means policy issues,” he said.

As a result, Stewart said, he “really developed an understanding of those issues but also a really strong interest in pursuing those policies and trying to make a difference in those areas.”

Stewart later went to work for BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Dem says marijuana banking bill will get House vote this spring Trump appears alongside Ocasio-Cortez on Time 100 list MORE, who was then the House minority leader.

“That was great, because at the time, the minority leader’s office didn’t have a dedicated Ways and Means-type portfolio person, so I was able to fill that role, doing all those kinds-of Ways and Means issues except for healthcare for the minority leader,” he said.

Stewart continued to work for Boehner after the Republican became Speaker in 2011. He took a leave of absence to work on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and became policy director for his vice presidential candidate, Ryan.

Following Romney and Ryan’s White House loss, Stewart returned to Boehner’s office and became his policy director. He stayed there until Boehner left office last fall, and then moved to the Ways and Means Committee.

In his new position, Stewart said, his foremost responsibility is to listen to the priorities of Brady, other committee members and House Republicans and to work on designing and coordinating legislative and oversight priorities to help the members achieve their goals.

He is also responsible for focusing the resources of the committee and its staff on the members’ objectives.

Election-year politics and a shortened session pose significant obstacles to Congress passing any major legislation.

But Stewart said people should not have “unreasonably low expectations just because of those conditions.”

“Chairman Brady, I think, assumes that a lot can be accomplished this year, and it’s not a time to sit by and idly wait for those things to come to a conclusion,” he said. “It’s a time to continue doing the necessary work to be ready, to achieve these big things when the opportunity arises.”

Brady is working to engage lawmakers on and off the committee about tax reform. The Ways and Means tax policy subcommittee is holding a series of hearings on proposals, and Brady is also leading a House task force on tax reform.

“I think consensus does continue to emerge, and it’s really important to have that member-to-member engagement to achieve it,” Stewart said.

On trade, Brady hopes that there can be a vote on Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) this year but has acknowledged that many lawmakers have substantive concerns about the 12-nation deal.

“Those are issues that are important to deal with because they’re important issues to members’ constituencies that have concerns about those things,” Stewart said. “And so, the pace of TPP, as the chairman frequently says, is going to be governed by the support and substance of the agreement.”

Stewart praised Brady for bringing a “real transparency” to the committee.

“Chairman Brady, I think, brings a very inclusive and open approach to being a legislator and being a chairman,” he said. That style, Stewart said, has already been reflected in Brady’s achievements, which include legislation that ended the annual “doc fix” for Medicare even before becoming chairman and a massive package of tax breaks in December, just after taking the reins of the committee.

“[Brady] has an expectation that legislators ought to do the work of being legislators and build the support and build the coalitions for what it is that they want to do,” Stewart said. “And working for Chairman Brady, who has and embodies that process, has been a real rewarding experience.”

Brady had kind words about his committee’s staff director.

“David is an excellent leader, a talented manager and a trusted policy adviser,” the chairman said. “He’s just the person I needed when I was filling this important position, and I’m so glad he is leading our team.”

Stewart is not the only recent hire on the committee. Some members of the Ways and Means staff have worked for the committee for a long time, but a lot of Ryan’s staffers went with him to the Speaker’s office.

“I think the chairman went out and set out to recruit the best staff he could at the committee, and I think we’re all quite pleased with the team that the chairman has assembled,” Stewart said.

When asked how many hours he works per week, Stewart replied, “a lot.” When he does have free time, he likes to spend it outdoors. He also has an interest in barbecue cooking.

He used to compete in the Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle and placed twice, for chicken and beef brisket.

“When I’m not here, it’s nice to just disconnect a little bit,” he said.

Those on both sides of the aisle who’ve worked closely with Stewart praised his knowledge, tenacity and interpersonal skills.

At the end of Boehner’s tenure as Speaker, Stewart was heavily involved in the negotiations for a budget deal. 

“That would not have gotten done if not for David’s commitment to put it to bed,” said Mike Sommers, Boehner’s chief of staff at the time.

Obama personally called Stewart to thank him for his work after the deal was reached.

“We need more David Stewarts in this town, in my opinion,” said Katie Beirne Fallon, who until recently was Obama’s director of legislative affairs.

Sharon Soderstrom, the chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Mueller report is a deterrent to government service Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age MORE (R-Ky.), said Brady was smart to hire Stewart.

“He’s an all-star,” she said.