The matter of Fred Upton

Fred Barnes presents “the case for Fred Upton for Chairman of House Energy and Commerce Committee.” Barnes finds that Upton “is especially well suited to be chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.” But instead of presenting evidence of Upton’s special fitness for the position, Barnes devotes his column to downplaying the objections conservatives have raised against Upton’s elevation.
These objections include Upton’s support for the TARP bailout (this, Barnes points out, is outside the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee), his opposition to drilling for oil in Lake Michigan (small potatoes), and his sponsorship, with Democrat Jane Harman, of a bill banning incandescent light bulbs (no one on the committee objected at the time).
I find this “guilty with an explanation” defense unpersuasive. What’s at stake here is the chairmanship of perhaps the most important House committee that deals with domestic legislation. Surely, conservatives have a right to expect more from that chairman than a series on non-conservative positions he can explain or that, with this much power at stake, he’s willing to walk away from.
Barnes says that “on spending, taxes, and energy issues [Upton] is on the same page as conservatives.” However, as I spelled out here, Upton was one of only three Republicans to oppose extending the Bush tax cuts, and he voted with the Democrats in their effort to make future tax cuts harder to pass. In addition, Upton opposed Republican amendments to the stimulus bill that would have substituted tax cuts for stimulus money, and voted against an amendment to cut $355 billion out of the stimulus legislation.
By the same token, Upton voted in favor of the Democrats’ $409 billion Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, which increased federal spending by 8.4 percent and gave President Obama $19 billion more than he had requested. Twenty Democrats voted against this Act, but Upton supported it.
With respect to energy policy, Upton’s non-conservative tendencies are not confined to issues involving his home state of Michigan. He has voted consistently to place more federal land off limits to domestic energy production. He voted for a bill to eliminate 1.2 million acres from mineral leasing and energy exploration in Wyoming, thereby withdrawing an estimated 331 million barrels of recoverable oil and 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from domestic energy supply. In addition, Upton helped Democrats pass an omnibus energy bill that imposed new regulations on energy companies and created dozens of new government energy programs.
On the question of climate change, Upton is no skeptic. “Right or wrong,” he proclaimed in February 2009, “the debate over the modeling and science appears to be over.” One might have thought that the merits of such an important debate, not just its posture, matter.
The controversy over Upton’s bid to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee goes to the heart of question of whether House Republicans intend to do business as usual or, instead, are serious about conservative governance. A vote for TARP, almost by itself, was enough to cost Sen. Bennett re-election in the face of Tea Party opposition. Yet, the Washington establishment seems to be rallying around an insider candidate for a major chairmanship whose vote for TARP is only the tip of the non-conservative iceberg.
I’ve tended to downplay claims that there is a fundamental clash between Tea Party conservatives and establishment Washington conservatives. If I wanted to argue to the contrary, I’d probably point first to the matter of Fred Upton.
UPDATE: Rep. Upton has written a memo to “interested parties” in which he pledges, if he becomes chairman, to push for and uphold a series of conservative positions. It’s good that he has made this pledge. However, I think Upton’s long voting history continues to argue against his elevation to chair this vital committee.

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