Upton Wins Energy and Commerce Chair, GOP Rebuffs Right and Doc Hastings

By Kennedy Maize

Washington, D.C., December 8, 2010 — Rebuffing the Tea Party contingent and right wing gas bags such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, House Republicans have picked Michigander Fred Upton to chair the all-important House Energy and Commerce Committee in the 112th Congress.

Upton, who has represented the southwestern corner of Michigan in the U.S. House since 1986, is a conventional Republican moderate-to-conservative with close ties to incoming House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. In the Boehner-dominated Republican steering committee, Upton defeated Joe Barton of Texas. Barton was the last Republican to chair the committee, a body that oversees energy, finance, health, and telecommunications issues.

A scion of the Whirlpool company, Upton has long supported energy efficiency standards for home appliances. His backing of 2007 legislation that phases out incandescent light bulbs in favor of compact fluorescent fixtures that use less energy — also supported by the Geroge W. Bush administration — won the ire of hard-right Republicans, including Limbaugh and Beck, who called him a “socialist,” about the worst thing one Republican can call another, short of “Democrat.”

Despite the Professional Right, Upton was the odds-on favorite for the committee chairmanship. Barton’s chance to chair evaporated last summer when he demonstrated political incorrectness by defending oil giant BP against a successful Obama administration $20 billion shakedown following the Gulf oil spill.

Upton also faced opposition from the right wing of his party on his alleged softness on abortion. To counter that presumed weakness, he agreed this week, after the steering committee picked him for the chairmanship, to name Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, a staunch abortion foe, to head the health subcommittee. Upton also pledged to push as hard as he can for repeal of the Obama administration’s signature health care law.

On energy, Upton told Politico that he embraces the party stance on “all of the above,” meaning he supports anything that produces Btus or electrons, including oil and gas, coal, nuclear, and renewable energy. He supports exploring for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Democrats and their environmental group allies view as somehow sacred ground.

Kentucky’s Ed Whitfield, whose district encompasses the coal-rich western reaches of the state where strip mines abound, is likely to become chairman of the energy and environment subcommittee. During his 16 years in Congress, Whitfield has championed the interests of workers at the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons plant in Paducah, Ky. They have long claimed they were injured by radiation exposure. Whitfield was an early and vocal Upton supporter in the committee chairmanship contest.

Also delving into internal Republican politics this week, the power grab by incoming Natural Resources Committee chairman Doc Hastings of Washington, aimed at stealing energy jurisdiction from the Energy and Commerce Committee, appears to have failed. Politico quoted Ohio’s Steve LaTourette, a Boehner ally on the steering committee, on the Hastings hustle: “It’s like John Belushi in ‘Animal House.'”

Greg Waldren of Oregon, whom Boehner picked to run the transition from minority in the 111th Congress to majority in the 112th, indicated that jurisdictions will not change when the chairmanships of the top committees get formally blessed by all the House Republicans on Thursday. Upton, who stands to lose if Hastings wins, said, “I’m told, I’m led to believe that that issue has been resolved.” In his favor, that is.