U.S. Rep. Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove, was appointed to the House Ways and Means Committee on Jan. 9, joining what is considered one of Congress’s most exclusive committees. Appointments to Ways and Means are highly sought-after because, as the chief tax-writing committee, it has much power. The responsibilities of committee members require the waiving of membership on other committees, and as a result, Suozzi has stepped down from the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, work he said he has enjoyed.
On Ways and Means, he assumes the seat formerly held by Rep. Joe Crowley, a 10-term New York Democrat who was defeated in a primary last June. It is unusual for a sophomore congressman to become a member of the committee. Suozzi said he did not know whether he was the first to do so. According to his website, Rep. Tom Reed, a Republican from Corning, was also selected to serve when he was a sophomore congressman in 2011.
“It’s a great honor to serve in the U.S. Congress,” he said, “and to now serve on this important and historic committee is an even greater honor.”
He is one of 10 new Democratic members of the 39-member committee.
When announcing the new members on Jan. 9, Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Richard Neal said they “hail from states across the country and bring a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences to our new majority.” Neal, a Democrat of Massachusetts, added that the new members will strengthen the work of the committee, which is dedicated to improving “Americans’ retirement security, lowering health care costs, cutting taxes for middle-class families and modernizing our nation’s infrastructure.”
Suozzi said his No. 1 priority is the reinstatement of the federal deduction for state and local taxes. He recently teamed with U.S. Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Seaford, to call on Congress to restore the deduction retroactively. Loss of the deduction, many said they fear, will cost Long Islanders millions of dollars in tax payments in a region that is already highly taxed.
“Peter King and I have already introduced the bill,” Suozzi said. “Now, with Ways and Means, I have more influence over prioritizing something like this. I’ll be there for all of the hearings discussing this, right there on the ground floor.”
King said he supported Suozzi’s appointment. “It is important to Long Island that Tom Suozzi be on this vital committee,” he said, “particularly for issues like SALT.”
People in other parts of the country believe that New Yorkers are rich, Suozzi said, pointing to the state’s home values, property taxes and salaries. “It you make $75,000 in Iowa, you’re on top of the world,” he said. “They don’t understand how hard it is for people to get by here because of the cost of living, and taxes, and everything else.”
Which is why the elimination of the SALT deduction is so unfair, he added. New York state already pays more federal taxes than the rest of the country, with estimates ranging from $36 billion to $46 billion in annual income tax dollars that is not reinvested in New York, he said.
“We are the biggest subsidizer of the rest of the country,” Suozzi said. “Most states in the country are takers.”
Asked if he believes a bill to reinstate the deduction will be passed in time to benefit taxpayers this tax season, he was cautious, but hopeful. “The House can get it done, but it will be hard to get the Senate to do so, too,” Suozzi said. “So it’s important that we get a lot of bipartisan support in the House, so the relationships can be used to convince the Republicans in the Senate. We need 60 votes there.”
He said he doesn’t believe his new committee assignment will require him to spend more time away from his family than he already does. “That’s the big downside of the job,” Suozzi said, adding that he usually spends four or five days a week in Washington, and sometimes has to travel on weekends as well. “In August I’m home during the recess,” he explained, “but then I have to go to all of the political and local events. During the week, I’m always going, going — to meetings, hearings and meeting people in Washington, and when I come home I go to all the different ceremonies, meetings with constituents and fundraising.”
But, he stressed, being a congressman is a great honor, and he remains humbled about his job and happy to be working hard at it.
His membership in Ways and Means, he said, will present him with some new challenges. “It’s a lot to learn — it’s very, very dense material,” he said. “Think about how complicated the tax code is, for example.” And the committee delves into health care, Social Security and trade, topics that he described as “very heady.”
Nonetheless, he said he believes his varied background — as an accountant, an attorney, a mayor and a county executive, has prepared him for the job.
Erik Hawkins and Scott Brinton contributed to this story.