Michigan’s Sander Levin to lead House Ways and Means Committee

In an untraditional twist, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) will replace Rep. Charles Rangel as acting chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee rather than Rep. Pete Stark (D-Fremont).

Because of seniority, Stark had been in line to take the job and, as of Wednesday evening, House Democrats indicated that it was his, at least on an interim basis.

But Stark’s politics -- he’s an unapologetic liberal -- and his volatility, with a history of making controversial and provocative statements, concerned other members of the committee as well as the Democratic leadership.

Stark also has been in ill health in recent years, frequently missing votes. And, as chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee on health, he has been intensely focused on healthcare issues rather than larger economic matters.

In a statement, Stark said he wanted to stay in charge of his subcommittee.

“I have decided to remain as chair of the Ways and Means Health subcommittee. We are at the cusp of achieving healthcare reform, and we must remain focused on moving forward,” he said. “Once we pass health reform, it will take careful oversight to make sure that it is being implemented correctly.”

The Ways and Means Committee is charged with writing tax policy, which gives it sweeping authority over any piece of legislation that involves revenue.

In that sense, Levin could make for a better fit. He’s an expert on trade issues and is considered to be much more moderate than Stark.

“The Ways and Means Committee plays a vital role on critical issues facing American families, including job creation, economic development and healthcare,” Levin said in a statement Thursday, promising to work “collaboratively with Democrats on the committee and the entire caucus, with congressional leadership and the Obama administration” as well as “undertaking discussions with Republicans in order to move our nation forward.”

Levin, 78, has served in the House since 1983. He is the brother of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.)

Pelosi made the announcement at a morning meeting of the House Democratic caucus.

Rangel, the embattled congressman from New York, said Wednesday that he was stepping down as committee chairman while awaiting the outcome of an Ethics Committee investigation. Both he and Pelosi called it a “leave of absence.”

However, installing Levin may be a sign that Pelosi and the Democratic leadership are concerned about the long-term stability of the committee and are considering the possibility that Rangel may never retake the gavel.