- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, one of the most powerful lawmakers and colorful characters on Capitol Hill, announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election to his California seat.

The 14-term Republican — widely loved and loathed for his bombastic nature and detailed grasp of the federal government’s most complex issues — is credited with guiding through Congress President Bush’s tax cuts and writing legislation on Medicare and Social Security.

Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called Mr. Thomas “one of the most effective and successful legislators Congress has seen in years.”

“Bill’s devotion to the issues that matter and passion for seeing them through will be sorely missed,” he said.

Mr. Bush called Mr. Thomas “a friend and a man of great accomplishment who has been a very effective leader in the House of Representatives,” citing “legislation that has brought about strong job creation and economic growth, improved health care for people of all ages, and ensured that America continues to benefit from free and fair trade.”

Mr. Thomas, who is 64 and has been chairman of the House’s lead tax committee since 2001, had been expected to retire because Republican term limit rules would have prohibited him from serving another term as committee chairman.

Other panel Republicans are jockeying to succeed him. Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. of Florida issued a statement immediately after Mr. Thomas’ announcement, saying: “As Ways and Means chairman, I intend to move legislation that makes our tax code more fair and efficient.”

Announcing his decision in Bakersfield, Calif., Mr. Thomas listed among his accomplishments tax cuts and prescription drug benefits for Americans and greater authority for the president to engage in foreign trade.

“We passed over $2 trillion in tax relief for hardworking American families; we provided the president with trade promotion authority so that he could seek freer and fairer trade markets; and we approved a long-overdue voluntary prescription drug benefit in Medicare for the first time in the program’s history,” he said.

His mastery of the federal tax code, Medicare and Social Security matters will be sorely missed by Republican leaders.

“His retirement will create a void in the Congress,” said Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and chairman of the influential Rules Committee. “He is a very skilled legislator who recognizes the importance of cutting taxes and opening up new markets to benefit American workers and consumers. He will leave a legacy of strong economic growth.”

But Mr. Thomas likely will not be missed by Democrats, with whom he has clashed bitterly. Most notably, Mr. Thomas in 2003 called Capitol Police to a room in which Democrats on his committee were meeting and ordered them removed. He later gave a tearful apology on the House floor.

Still, Democrats have little hope of capturing the open seat, which is in one of California’s most heavily Republican districts.

Mr. Bush has won the district twice with at least 64 percent of the vote. In 2002, Mr. Thomas defeated his Democratic challenger with 73 percent of the vote. In 2004, he ran unopposed.

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