Energetic Infighting for Energy and Commerce Chair

Jillian Bandes

12/2/2010 12:01:00 AM - Jillian Bandes

Glenn Beck has come out against him. Rush has come out against him. Tea Party activists from every different angle are snarling over charges that he’s one of the biggest RINO’s in the jungle.

Depending on your priorities, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) may or may not deserve it.

Upton is vying for chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the powerful Congressional cabal in charge of everything from environmental policy to the dismantling of Obamacare. Upton has come under fire for lax fiscal policies and a greeny mentality that rivals Al Gore’s – in other words, for being particularly ill-suited for a position involving energy or commercial action.

It’s true that Upton was responsible for banning the incandescent light bulb, a move that was as fiscally idiotic as it was environmentally unsound. It’s also true that he voted to raise the minimum wage and the TARP bailout, and has voted for subsidies on everything from “cash-for-clunkers” to our ever-doomed Amtrak system.

But his opponent, longstanding Rep. Joe Barton, voted for cash-for-clunkers, too, and used his Congressional stump to lobby for the frivolous cause of reforming the national college football championship. Barton’s also got the kind of connections to the oil industry that can only be built after starting out a career in the field and then spending two and a half decades in Congress. That doesn’t do a whole lot for the anti-money-politics message that the GOP has been flashing around this cycle.

The GOP doesn’t have a coherent energy policy, and Barton’s six-years of leading the minority on the Committee hasn’t helped. Many Republicans were angered by Barton’s recent apology to BP over the fallout from the Gulf oil spill, a move that caused GOP leaders to threaten Barton’s removal as ranking member on Energy and Commerce this year. That’s only one reason his relationship with soon-to-to-be Speaker John Boehner is more than a little chilly, meaning that the channels of communication may be iced over if Barton takes the chair.

It’s difficult to assert that Barton doesn’t have the more conservative record, however, especially on issues relating to what the Committee does. But he has one major battle ahead of him if he’s even going to be in the running for the spot: Barton has exhausted the term limits imposed on House chairmanships by the Republican caucus, after having served as ranking member for the past six years.

Barton argues those terms limits don’t apply to him because he chaired the Energy Commerce when Republicans were in the minority, and he would be serving this future chairmanship as a member of the majority. House leadership has indicated that they probably won’t buy this excuse, but there is no clear precedent and the matter is far from settled.

It will all come out in the wash on Tuesday, when the caucus is expected to vote.