We’ve been following with considerable interest the matter of who will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the next Congress. The current Ranking Member, Joe Barton (R-Tex), confronts a Republican rule prohibiting its members from serving more than three consecutive terms as chairmen or ranking members of committees. Barton served one two-year term as chairman and two more as ranking member after Democrats took control of the House in 2006.
Barton is trying to argue his way around this rule. And this week, according to Politico, three former chairmen of the committee — Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and former Reps. Bill Archer (R-Texas) and Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) — sent a letter to the Republican leadership urging it to find that Barton hasn’t reached the end of his term limit. They state that “nothing in the rule bars the Republican leader and/or the Steering Committee from simply clarifying the reality that service as a ranking member simply does not equal service as chairman.”
However, Politico concludes that, given Barton’s “icy” relationship with the leadership, the bid to make Barton chairman will likely fail. This would leave Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich) as the frontrunner, with Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill) also in the picture.
As we have noted, Upton’s voting record shows him to be a very poor choice to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee. Whether the issues relate to energy/environmental matters, fiscal matters, abortion, or national security and foreign policy, Upton truly is a prospective House committee chairman Democrats can love.
As for the rest of the electorate, it might be useful to ask what percentage of those who voted Republican in the House elections last week would favor Upton to head the Committee if they studied his voting record. I’d be surprised if that percentage exceeded 20.
It is well understood that the Republican leadership needs to show voters, and especially the Republican base, that they have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them this time around. I think the difficulties associated with this mission are overstated because it seems to me that John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and company do “get it.”
But placing the moderate Upton in charge of a committee as central to the conservataive mission as Energy and Commerce would demonstrate true tone-deafness, and would represent a slap in the face of the voters who enabled Republicans to regain majority status in the House.
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