Elected: 1990, 12th term.
Born: July 9, 1953, Midland
Education: Albion Col., B.A. 1975, U. of San Diego, J.D. 1978
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1978–90; MI special asst. atty. gen., 1980–84; A.A., U.S. Rep. Bill Schuette, 1984–87.
Family: married (Nancy) , 3 children
Republican Dave Camp, elected in 1990, chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee. His low-key, consensus-building style stands in sharp contrast to that of several recent Ways and Means chairmen. “I don’t think you need to bang the gavel, pound your fists, or shout to be effective,” he once told The Wall Street Journal. Facing the prospect of yielding his gavel in 2015 under House GOP term limits, he announced in March 2014 that he would not seek re-election.
Camp grew up in Midland, working at his father’s garage as a teenager, and returned there after school to practice law. In 1984, he managed the successful congressional campaign of his boyhood friend, Bill Schuette. In 1990, Schuette unsuccessfully ran against Democratic Sen. Carl Levin; Camp, with two years in the state House under his belt, ran for the vacated House seat. His key victory was in the Republican primary, where he beat Al Cropsey, a former legislator who was allied with evangelical conservatives, 33%-30%.
Camp is well-liked among Republicans for his inclusive style on Ways and Means, bringing GOP lawmakers together in small groups to hear from experts about complex economic matters—something that has helped earn the gratitude of junior members. Camp is close to both Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the two top leaders who have a strained relationship. Camp is a member of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership but has a generally conservative voting record, especially on fiscal issues. He has criticized the complexity of the tax code, often calling it “10 times longer than the Bible, without the good news.” He wants more people to pay income taxes, telling syndicated columnist George Will in 2010, “I believe you’ve got to have some responsibility for the government you have.”
Assuming the helm of Ways and Means in 2011, Camp focused on finding ways to lessen the tax burden on corporations in favor of having more contributors pay less, an approach he called “broadening the base.” Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s fiscal 2012 blueprint embraced Camp’s concept to lower both the corporate and the top individual tax rate to 25% while not reducing tax revenues. He also pressed the Obama administration for swift action on pending free trade deals with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. Camp suffered a few early setbacks: Cost-conscious conservatives objected to extending the Trade Adjustment Assistance programs, which provide training for workers displaced by trade deals or outsourcing. He also tried to move legislation overhauling unemployment insurance through the use block grants to the states. But with Democrats blasting the GOP over Ryan’s proposals to change Medicare, Republicans lost their appetite for another block grant plan.
Camp was picked to serve on the bipartisan super committee that arose out of the 2011 debt-ceiling standoff. He hoped the group could tackle tax reform, but the committee could not bridge the enormous partisan divides in the few months it was given to work out a deal. He helped steer the three free trade deals to passage and also helped Boehner out by successfully negotiating with Democrats an agreement to extend a payroll tax cut for nearly every American worker.
With his Democratic Senate counterpart, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, Camp pressed for a revamp of the tax code. Their committees held several joint hearings in 2012 on tax reform—the first such hearings across chambers since the World War II era. Camp’s bipartisan streak has led him to join with Democrats in the House to expand tax credits for education costs and to boost federal Hope scholarships for low-income students. In a nod to his economically struggling state, he was among just six Republicans in March 2010 to support a House-passed jobs bill that included tax incentives for businesses hiring unemployed workers. Camp gets along less well with the Ways and Means ranking Democrat, fellow Michigander Sander Levin, who is far more liberal than Baucus. The two got into a testy argument on the economy while appearing together at a December 2011 Rules Committee hearing.
Camp sponsored the House-passed bill to extend the tax cuts enacted under George W. Bush and maintain the lower tax rates on dividend and capital gain income; it drew only one dissenting GOP vote. He backed the New Year’s Day 2013 deal on taxes and spending to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but had no hand in drafting the leadership-driven measure, which was unpopular with many of his Republican colleagues. Yet in his role as chairman, he had to defend it on the House floor. He later told The Washington Post, “I never felt so alone on a floor full of people.”
Camp was a guiding hand behind some of the major initiatives from the earlier era of Republican control of the House, 1995 to 2006. He played a key role in passing the welfare overhaul in 1996, and he defended the party’s signature 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill against Democratic attacks. He championed President Bush’s failed plan to create private savings accounts in the Social Security program.
When Louisiana Republican Rep. Jim McCrery announced that he would not seek reelection in 2008, Rep. Wally Herger of California had more seniority than Camp and was positioned to succeed McCrery in the ranking minority slot on Ways and Means, the most powerful post for the minority party on a committee. Camp did the requisite networking on the K Street lobbying corridor, and, in the most important test—who could raise more money for Republicans in tough election battles—Camp was far and away Herger’s superior, bringing in over $2 million for the party, while Herger raised about half that amount. Camp also had better ties to Republican leaders. In 1998, he ran Illinois Republican Dennis Hastert’s successful campaign for House speaker. He also served on the leadership-driven Steering Committee, which makes committee assignments. Camp got the ranking post, which put him in position to rise to chairman when Republicans won control of the House in 2010.
An important pet issue for Camp is adoption law. He helped win enactment in 2000 of the International Adoption Act, which designates the State Department to help adoptive parents in dealing with officials in other nations. Two years later, Congress passed his bill to create financial incentives for domestic adoptions. On an issue of interest to his home state, Camp got a bill into law in 2012 ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to devise a plan for blocking invasive Asian carp that threaten the Great Lakes fishing industry.
Camp has had minimal opposition in the 4th District. He keeps in close touch with the district by signing every constituent letter sent from his office, often with a personal note—roughly 30,000 each year. In July 2012, Camp was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He underwent chemotherapy and other treatment over the next several months and was declared cancer-free in December of that year.
Camp considered running for the Senate when veteran Democrat Carl Levin announced his retirement, but chose instead to focus on his goal of overhauling the tax code. But it became evident that in a sharply divided Congress, it likely would be too heavy a lift. Baucus, Camp's partner in the effort, ultimately chose to become U.S. ambassador to China. An undaunted Camp released his plan in March 2014. The measure called for a special 35 percent bracket for couples with incomes of more than $450,000, as well as a tax on big banks -- the latter idea a novel proposal from a conservative Republican. House Republican leaders praised Camp for his hard work, but made it clear that his blueprint wasn't a legislative priority.