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Fred in the News

THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The Case for Fred Upton for Chairman of House Energy and Commerce Committee

Washington, DC, November 16, 2010 | Sean C. Bonyun ((202) 225-3761)
By Fred Barnes -

Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, the favorite to be the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has come under attack by some conservatives as a mushy RINO (Republican In Name Only). But take a look at what his agenda as chairman would be. It’s anything but what a RINO would propose.

The committee has jurisdiction over Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and not-so-poor. (The Ways and Means Committee handles Medicare.) Medicaid is hemorrhaging tens of billions every year and bankrupting state governments, which actually run the program and pay a good chunk of the bill.

What would Upton do? Give states a block grant for Medicaid and encourage them to try innovative reforms in carrying out the program. Upton says he would tell the states: “Here’s what you get. You figure it out.” This was done earlier with welfare, states experimented with different solutions, and the way was cleared for full welfare reform in 1996.

Upton told me he would work with Rep. Paul Ryan, the likely next chairman of the House Budget Committee, on reducing the cost of Medicaid in the 2012 budget that Ryan will draft. On Medicaid, he’s every bit as radical (and sensible) as Ryan.

What about Obamacare? Upton is for repeal. If President Obama vetoes repeal legislation – assuming it passes the Senate – “Republicans will use every means possible to dismantle it,” Upton wrote in the Daily Caller last week. He favors a bevy of free market reforms, including purchasing health insurance across state lines to avoid “expensive plans in high-mandate states.”

Upton voted against the cap and trade global warming bill that passed the House last year (but not the Senate) and he opposes the administration’s backup plan to have the Environmental Protection Agency limit greenhouse gas emissions. He’s for barring any EPA action without congressional approval, which it won’t get.

He’s been zinged for voting against drilling in Lake Michigan, as did the other House members whose districts border the lake. But that’s an insignificant matter, especially when compared to his support for oil drilling in ANWR in Alaska, in offshore areas in the Atlantic, in the tar sands in Canada, and in oil shale regions of the U.S.

Upton is for abolishing the unnecessary House Select Committee on Climate Change established by Nancy Pelosi. He’s for expanding the use of nuclear power. He’s obviously not a tree hugger. And by the way, he’s a free trader.

He wants to cut spending and not just in general but also in one specific way that would affect every congressional committee. “We must stop letting legislation move through the committee process with the opaque, anything goes ‘such sums as may be necessary’ appropriations language” that allows spending to soar, he said in a piece in Politico yesterday co-authored by Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform.

While Upton is hardly a noted social conservative, he is for passing legislation to keep taxpayers’ money from paying for abortions. He voted to ban foreign aid as well from funding abortions. He refers to himself as a “pro-lifer.”

The truth is that Upton is not a RINO or even close to being one. He’s not a movement conservative either. He voted for raising the minimum wage and the TARP bailout. But on spending, taxes, and energy issues he is on the same page as conservatives. And it’s these issues that are front and center today.

He’s also a team player, which means he won’t wander off to the land of liberal Democrats. He says he’ll never be on a “different page from John Boehner,” the soon-to-be House speaker.

Upton has been faulted for voting for the light bulb bill that annoys so many people, including me. It was passed by voice vote as part of an energy bill in 2007. It banned incandescent bulbs, the kind everyone prefers over those more expensive, fancy ones that environmentalists cherish and the bill requires. “Nobody [on the committee] opposed it,” Upton says. As chairman, he’s for reconsidering the light bulb law.

There’s a struggle for the committee chairmanship. The ranking Republican, Joe Barton of Texas, wants the job, but he would need a waiver from the Republican rule on term limits. He’s not likely to get it from Boehner and the steering committee. Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois is also interested in the job, but he lacks Upton’s seniority on the committee.

I know Upton quite well. He’s not as conservative as I am. But he is especially well suited to be chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. On the issues the committee will take up, he is conservative. Republicans shouldn’t let a silly light bulb bill keep him from becoming chairman.


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