It is a widely reported fable in Washington that the former Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, John Dingell (D-MI), hung a portrait of the Earth in one of his committee rooms so he could point to it when asked about his committee’s jurisdiction. Like Babe Ruth and the famous called shot, only Dingell knows the truth about this piece of Washington folklore. But what cannot be denied is the wide-ranging set of policy issues that emanates from this powerful House committee.
The Energy and Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction is practically limitless. Energy, environment, health care, interstate and foreign commerce, consumer protection, biomedical research and development, communication and communication technology, travel and tourism, and even “sports related matters” all fall under the purview of this unwieldy body.
The new Republican Majority in the House has a lot of promises to keep. First and foremost, they have pledged to unravel the recent health care overhaul. Since it is clear that a repeal of Obama-care will never reach the President’s desk, the Energy and Commerce Committee will need to spend a great deal of time deconstructing the massive measure. No small task, to be sure.
Telecommunications, another major sector of the economy, has received very little attention these past two years given the current Chairman, Henry Waxman (D-CA) was busy brokering deal upon deal to deliver Obamacare and the cap-and-trade national energy tax to Speaker Pelosi. As a result, the many federal laws governing the rapidly changing telecommunications industry have fallen far behind the realities of the marketplace.
Now that the obituary has finally been written on cap-and-trade, Congress will literally be starting over in the effort to construct a national energy policy that should focus on creating and fostering real and sustainable jobs and removing obstacles to affordable domestic energy production.
With such a wide range of important policy debates (and thousands of lobbyists that seek to influence the outcomes), it is understandable that elected officials covet a seat on the sixty-member Energy and Commerce Committee. It is probably also the reason why the battle to serve as its Chairman has devolved into a street fight.
But the fact that so many important complex policy debates reside in one single committee doesn’t make it effective, just popular. Case in point, the Blowout Prevention Act of 2010. On July 15th of this year, the Energy and Commerce Committee voted 48-0 on a Henry Waxman bill that the Texas Railroad Commission declared “catastrophic to more than the energy industry as it sets precedent for any industry that is regulated at the state level.” Every single Republican member seeking to chair this committee voted in favor of this stunning power grab, which for the first time ever would require federal permission for every onshore oil or gas well drilled in the United States, including those on state and private lands.
In a November 10th blog post, I called for the creation of an Energy and Natural Resources Committee by consolidating the energy portfolio of the Energy and Commerce Committee and transferring it to the Natural Resources Committee.
With a more concentrated focus, the House Natural Resources Committee would be the logical place to discuss and deliberate national energy policy. Its jurisdiction already includes the management of America’s federal lands – both onshore and offshore – and it oversees the Department of Interior. The Natural Resources Committee also currently sets mining policy in the House and watches over the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
In a recent letter to Speaker-elect John Boehner, 18 Republican Members of the Energy and Commerce Committee stated several reasons for why they should hold onto the energy portfolio. They seemingly made an equally compelling case for why they should let it go:
“Exhibiting unparalleled tenacity and teamwork, our 23 Members pushed the majority through a grueling 17-day ObamaCare markup during which 350 amendments were offered and 54 were debated.”
That same tenacity and teamwork is going to be even more critical if the House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee hope to make a compelling enough case to get the Democratic controlled Senate and the President to overturn parts of this landmark healthcare law.
And while it is no surprise that the one thing all of the current candidates seeking to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee next year can agree on is their collective opposition to this commonsense reform of the committee structure, we are glad to see the idea is getting some traction within the Republican Conference.
Speaker-elect Boehner has an excellent opportunity to help make the House run more efficiently and to more effectively advance the very ambitious agenda outlined in the new Republican Majority’s Pledge to America by backing this change in jurisdiction. Even with the change, the new Commerce Committee will still play a major role in getting this country back on track.