Tuesday, November 16, 2010

GOP leadership struggle for key panel turns nasty

From Patrick O'Connor and Stephen Power of The Wall Street Journal on Nov. 17:
WASHINGTON—The fight over who should lead the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee is importing some of the nastiness of the midterm elections to an internecine struggle between a pair of Republicans.

In one corner is Rep. Joe Barton, an unpredictable Texan who was scorned by leaders of both parties earlier this year for apologizing to BP PLC executives during a hearing on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Mr. Barton is pitted against Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who conservatives regard as too soft because of his support for expanding a state-run health-care program for children and energy-conservation measures like phasing out the 100-watt incandescent light bulb.

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners last week it would be a "tone-deaf disaster" if Republicans let Mr. Upton have the chairmanship, calling it "exactly the kind of nannyism, statism" that was rejected by voters earlier this month.

Mr. Barton is also carrying political baggage beyond the BP gaffe. He requires a waiver from party rules just to seek the chairmanship, since he was the Energy and Commerce panel's chairman when Republicans last controlled the House in 2006, and party rules prohibit any GOP lawmaker from holding the top slot on a committee for more than six years. Mr. Barton and his staff have also clashed with Ohio Rep. John Boehner, the likely next House speaker and one of the GOP leaders who will select the panel's next chairman.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over critical sectors of the economy, including health care and telecommunications. With Republicans in control, it is expected to be a launching pad for efforts to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law, a top priority for many conservative voters, and for challenges to administration regulatory and energy policies, including efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to curb greenhouse gases.

Mr. Boehner hasn't tipped his hand on how he and other GOP leaders will resolve the Energy and Commerce contest. But if Mr. Barton fails to secure a waiver, Mr. Upton, 57 years old, is next in line to take over the committee.


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