The case for Joe Barton as Chairman of Energy and Commerce

[from the diaries by haystack~nice work EPU]

[Full disclosure – Joe Barton is my congressman. I have met him in passing and have sat in a couple of meetings he has conducted, since I was once a precinct chairman. Likewise I have met a handful of his staff, who also probably have no memory of me.]


You may know Joe Barton only as the guy who in a recent committee hearing accused the Obama administration of a “shakedown” and actually apologized to the CEO of British Petroleum for despicable treatment from Democrats and the Obama administration while BP was going to extraordinary lengths to stop the spill and do right by the people in the Gulf. You may remember that as a major “gaffe” by an ignorant and bumbling back-bencher who was quickly and publicly put in his place by GOP leadership.

If that is what you know of Joe Barton, then you know nothing.

You actually know less than nothing, because what you know is wrong. You need to learn about this man. He is currently at the center of a debate whose outcome will be decided before January, whose outcome will tell us whether or not House Republicans heard the American people.

On November 2, an electoral tidal wave swept Republicans back into control of the U.S. House. In the next few weeks, the Steering Committee will be assigning chairmanships to the committees. In practice, whatever incoming Speaker Boehner wants in that regard, he’s likely to get. Which brings us to Energy and Commerce, one of the most important committees in the next two years. Two people are up for the chair: current Ranking Member Joe Barton (TX-06); and second-in-seniority Fred Upton(MI-06).

Boehner has, in recent months and especially since the election, said all the right things that indicate he’ll lead the fight against profligate Democrat expansions of spending, regulation, debt, and a pandemic intrusion on liberty. His decision on Energy & Commerce, however, will tell us what kind of stamp Boehner will put on the 112th Congress.

Will the House stand with America against the Obama/Pelosi Democrats, or will it be compromise, negotiate, and surrender principle for crumbs from the table?

What did this election mean?

The electorate certainly spoke. It said FAIL. Not since 1938 has the electorate issued such a repudiation of the party in power. Barack told America that it was because his policies were not communicated clearly enough, or the economy was not recovering fast enough. That funny guy! For most Americans not currently crying in their milk and sticking pins in their Pelosi dolls the electorate said something rather different:

  • It said FAIL to ObamaCare.
  • It said FAIL to the high-handed arrogance of power, shoving bills and policies down the throat of an unconsenting America.
  • It said FAIL to Porkulus, to teen-with-daddy’s-credit-card spending, and to ballooning deficits, sold as a miracle cure for a crashing economy.
  • It said FAIL to utterly ignoring the desperately personal plight of 15 million unemployed and 9 million under-employed Americans.
  • It said FAIL to government takeovers of GM and Chrysler.
  • It said FAIL to “never let a crisis go to waste”, perfectly exemplified by the incompetent and politically motivated handling of the Gulf spill.
  • It said FAIL to corruption and pro-union policies.
  • It said FAIL to Eric Holder’s deeply corrupt and racially motivated Justice Department.
  • It said FAIL to the casual dismissal of border security responsibilities, and to suing a state that merely tried to do what the federal government refused to do.

Only a fool would think that the electorate also said “I HEART Republicans”. What it said to Republicans was:

  • You have been given a second chance. Probably a last chance.
  • Stop what the Democrats are doing.
  • Undo what you can. Understanding that you may not succeed in overriding vetoes, or getting things past the Senate, you better give it your best shot.
  • Begin to anact a pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda that reduces government intrusion on liberties.

What does the Energy and Commerce Committee do?

The Energy and Commerce Committee deals with all matters related to… well….. energy and interstate commerce, particularly the regulation and management of same. In practical terms it means that in the near future the Committee is tasked with:

  • reining in EPA abuses of power and attempts to enact the carbon tax policies of the Waxman-Markey Bill, even though it has never passed the Senate or been signed into law.
  • repealing or crippling Obamacare
  • repairing damage done to the oil industry and overall domestic energy industry and working toward sensible snergy independence.
  • dismantling a system-wide regulatory cancer based on Global Warming…. Climate Change…. Global Climate Disruption…. whatever they’re calling the global warming hoax these days.
  • putting the brakes on the proposed ‘net neutralitiy’ scheme, which means government regulation of the internet by burying it legislatively and thwarting the FCC’s attempt to bypass Congress and implement it anyway.

This will require a leader unerringly guided by small-government principles, a person willing to fight the Obama administration, the Repubilcan establishment, and the bureaucracy.

Meet Fred Upton the ‘conservative’

Fred Upton, the second-ranking Republican on the committee, is not an evil man. He is also not a conservative, not even a little bit. Right now he is posing as a conservative, like every Republican and most Democrats posturing for power or position. But he is not the man for this job, or any leadership job. He claims he’s ready to take on the Democrats, and to demand explanations from EPA head Lisa Jackson and “Energy Czar” Carol Browner. And so on.

In fact, he finds nothing repugnant about the Democrat agenda at all. Like new Senator Mark Kirk and failed Senate candidate Mike Castle, his name is routinely followed by “one of [x (small number)] Republicans in the House to vote for [insert disreputable Democrat-sponsored bill]”. For example (and there are many)

  • one of 29 House Republicans to support creation of the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. This empowered federal bureaucrats to impose strict zoning and land-use rules and made it more difficult for the U.S. Border Patrol to do its job in blocking illegal immigration through federal wilderness areas.
  • one of 20 Republicans to vote against an amendment offered by Rep. Jim Jordan that would have reduced the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 funding to 2008 levels.
  • one of 9 House GOPers who voted against Rep. Dave Camp’s substitute amendment to the $787 billion Obama-Pelosi economic stimulus bill in March 2009. The Camp amendment would have substituted a GOP stimulus alternative made up primarily of new tax cuts for individuals and business.
  • one of 16 GOPers to support House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2009 omnibus spending bill that included an 8.4 percent spending increase over and above the stimulus package, as well as $7.7 billion in earmarks. The measure also canceled the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for 1,900 students in the nation’s capital.

Other fun Upton facts:

  • He co-wrote, along with Jane Harman (D-CA), the bill in 2007 that outlaws incandescent light bulbs in 2014.
  • He is a founding member of the Republican Main Street Partnership. If that sounds familiar to you, it should. It is a group of liberal Republicans dedicated to thwarting and marginalizing any and all conservative influences on the Republican Party. John McCain is a member.
  • In 2005 he voted against the extension of the Bush tax cuts on capital gains and dividends.
  • He voted for oil and gas drilling bans off the coast of Florida and in the Great Lakes, as well as for blocking millions of acres from new oil and gas leasing, logging, mining, and other business activity.

You get the idea. Do you think the American people on November said “we want guys like Fred Upton in charge”?

Meet Joe Barton

He was first elected in 1984, and served as Chairman of this committee in the 2005-2006 session, and Ranking Member (leader of the minority party) ever since. 26 years, high ranking, that might sound like he’s one of the “good old boys” of the Republican establishment, part of the old entrenched crowd who drove the Republican Party to ruin.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Former House Majority Leader and current leader of the grassroots group FreedomWorks Dick Armey has a quiver full of Joe Barton stories and is a great admirer:

  • As a freshman in 1985, he was the sole vote in favor of President Reagan’s proposed balanced budget, at 350-1, with 5 minutes left in the vote, before Republicans joined him in droves. GOP leadership threatened him that DCCC would target his seat if he did not cave.
  • Early in his career he dogged Hewlett-Packard and eventually nailed them for using illegally gained phone records to spy on employees, and using spyware to spy on journalists. He eventually went on a crusade to stop the online gathering of private consumer information, and has ever since made personal privacy a matter of great importance. [You can imagine that Google is no fan of Joe ]
  • Over time Barton has become known on the Hill as one who is unabashedly relentless in his conservative and pro-growth goals, and yet a notable team builder who has won the respect and admiration of political opponents like John Dingell for being open, decent, and fair. His first act as Chairman was to gain passage of the 2005 Energy Policy Act.
  • In 2006, NBC Chairman Bob Wright unleashed nitwit shock jock Don Imus on Barton, because Barton insisted that the NIH be allowed to decide, free of lobbying, whose research it would fund (Wright’s pet project being autism). Barton withstood daily nationally broadcast smearing from Imus, and was called every disgusting name imaginable. Needless to say, the NIH was granted its autonomy. Guys like Barton are not moved by the likes of Donald Imus, or the likes of Bob Wright for that matter.

Barton gained a name for moving the debate rightward and getting legislation passed, while being evenhanded and respectful to the other side, always behind the scenes and rarely in front of a microphone. Nevertheless, since the Democrat takeover in 2007, he has been a veritable thorn in the flesh to the Democrats.

He has incessantly called for Obama EPA head Lisa Jackson to testify before the committee. The Democrats have not heeded, but he hasn’t shut up about it. He has written letters and filed motions, keeping her name in constant view.

Barton, Obamacare, and the August 2009 recess

In July 2009, Democrats desperately wanted to blow through committee hearings and get quick passage of Obamacare before the August recess, so as to not have to face angry constituents before the vote. Those hopes were dashed by none other than Joe Barton. In spite of being outnumbered 35-23, Barton’s forces subjected the bill to 17 days of markups, and forced the Democrats to a 10-day retreat. Republicans offered 350 amendments and debated 54 of them. It was this committee’s protracted and brutal hearings that exposed the world to the details of the bill. The bill passed out of Energy and Commerce 31-28 on Friday, July 31, as members rushed home for the August recess.

Perhaps you heard of the August 2009 recess and all those townhalls? I believe it was in all the papers. I have always maintained that the August recess was when the Tea Party found its voice, and became a movement that knew its own power. In the townhalls, the seeds were first sown for November 2, 2010. Now you know Joe Barton’s unheralded role in it.

Congressman Barton has plans for this session too. Not content just to be the “party of no”, he’s published numerous statements and propounded to-do lists. Among them is Ten ways to start cleaning up the mess. He’s shovel ready, you might say.

The waiver, and the 1994 class

There is the little matter of the Republican “Six-year rule”. Standing Republican rules state that a member can only serve as Ranking Member or Chairman for 6 years. Barton has served 2 years as chairman, 4 years as Ranking Member. It is possible to read the rules to say that it means 6 years as Ranking Member or 6 years as Chairman.


To tell the truth, I don’t think it matters. Precedent paves the way for a waiver. In 1994, the wave election engineered by Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America, Republicans took power for the first time in 40-ish years. Numerous House Republicans were allowed to serve a full 6 years as Chairman even though they had already been serving as Ranking Members.

Boehner can in good conscience and with precedent grant a waiver to Barton. The circumstances are the same.

House leadership – did they hear the message?

If there is any lesson to be learned from Republican congressional rule from most of 1994-2006, it is how quickly and easily the Republican establishment becomes Democrat-Lite once it has power. Republicans must surely know that the best they can say about November 2, 2010, is that they’ve been given an audition, a chance to do better.

Republicans have been given an audition, no more. They can back up that election-season talk and begin leading this Republic back to Constitutional rule, back to sanity, back to accountability, back to freedom. Failing that, they will suffer the fate of this generation’s Democrats.

Joe Barton is a devastingly effective leader, unswervingly conservative, a savvy and smart veteran who knows no fear. He knows exactly what to do, and exactly how to get it done. Upton is not even worth a second look. I have nothing against some of the lower-ranking members like Shimkus and Stearns. But neither of them is a Joe Barton.

The November election was one of the most important in our lifetimes. The 112th Congress needs our ace pitchers, our closers, and our clutch hitters. For Commerce and Energy, that is Joe Barton. It’s not even a debate.


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