Sunday, May 24, 2009

Considered Forthwith: House Energy and Commerce Committee

Welcome to the ninth installment of "Considered Forthwith."

This weekly series looks at the various committees in the House and the Senate. Committees are the workshops of our democracy. This is where bills are considered, revised, and occasionally advance for consideration by the House and Senate. Most committees also have the authority to exercise oversight of related executive branch agencies. If you want to read previous dairies in the series, search using the "forthwith" tag. I welcome criticisms and corrections in the comments.


This week, I will examine the House Energy and Commerce Committee. There is a lot going on in this committee, including speed reading to neutralize a GOP stalling tactic.

First, here are the committee members:

Democrats: Henry Waxman, Chairman, California; John Dingell, Chair Emeritus, Michigan; Ed Markey, Massachusetts; Rick Boucher, Virginia; Frank Pallone, Jr., New Jersey; Bart Gordon, Tennessee; Bobby Rush, Illinois; Anna Eshoo, California; Bart Stupak, Michigan; Eliot Engel, New York; Gene Green, Texas; Diana DeGette, Colorado; Lois Capps, California; Michael F. Doyle, Pennsylvania; Jane Harman, California; Jan Schakowsky, Illinois; Charlie Gonzalez, Texas; Jay Inslee, Washington Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin; Mike Ross, Arkansas; Anthony Weiner, New York; Jim Matheson, Utah; G. K. Butterfield, North Carolina; Charlie Melancon, Louisiana; John Barrow, Georgia; Baron Hill, Indiana; Doris Matsui, California; Donna Christensen, Virgin Islands; Kathy Castor, Florida; John Sarbanes, Maryland; Chris Murphy, Connecticut; Zack Space, Ohio; Jerry McNerney, California; Betty Sutton, Ohio; Bruce Braley, Iowa; Peter Welch, Vermont.

Republicans: Joe Barton, Ranking Member, Texas; Ralph Hall, Texas; Fred Upton, Michigan; Cliff Stearns, Florida; Nathan Deal, Georgia; Ed Whitfield, Kentucky; John Shimkus, Illinois; John Shadegg, Arizona; Roy Blunt, Missouri; Steve Buyer, Indiana; George Radanovich, California; Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania; Mary Bono Mack, California; Greg Walden, Oregon; Lee Terry, Nebraska; Mike J. Rogers, Michigan; Sue Myrick, North Carolina; John Sullivan, Oklahoma; Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania; Michael C. Burgess, Texas; Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee; Phil Gingrey, Georgia; Steve Scalise, Louisiana.

The chairman
Waxman is brand new to the chairmanship. In November he managed to take control of the committee from Dingell, who had served as chair for 28 years. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies quietly supported Waxman's bid under the assumption that the California Representative would be a more effective supporter of President Barack Obama's priorities, including a Cap and Trade bill, than the long-serving Representative from Michigan with ties to the automobile industry. Waxman won the chairmanship by a vote of 137-122 in the Democratic Caucus. Dingell now holds the title of chairman emeritus. According to the committee rules, that entitles him to be a non-voting ex-officio member of any subcommittee that he does not sit on.

Additionally, Dingell is the second most senior Democrat on the committee, meaning he will usually be third in line to ask questions of witnesses (after Waxman and Barton). This is important because the "five minute rule" means members may only take five minutes to question a witness. Going first means a member has a chance to make headlines by asking the tough questions before anyone else. Whereas Dingell might have a chance to ask a relevant and probing question, Peter Welch might be stuck with asking a witness his or her favorite color.

Jurisdiction
The Energy and Commerce Committee is one of the oldest standing committees (along with the Rules and the Ways and Means Committees). It also has one of the more expansive jurisdictions of the authorizing committees.

Authorizing committees handle non-appropriations bills. They have the power to set spending limits for government programs and purchases. It is then up the the appropriations committees to actually fund programs. For example, the committee recently passed a one-year program called "Cash for Clunkers" what would give Americans vouchers of up to $4,500 for trading in high polluting vehicles. If the program is approved, the appropriations committee would need to actually make money available for the program. This is part of an intra-branch system of checks and balances. Appropriators can only fund existing programs, but cannot create new ones. Authorizing committees, on the other hand can create all kinds of programs, but are at the mercy of the appropriators to get those programs funded.

As expected, the Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over most aspects of the nation's energy policy (including nuclear power) as well as interstate and foreign commerce. The commerce aspect includes several health care responsibilities including all health facilities not covered by payroll deductions (i.e. Medicare), biomedical research and development, public health, quarantine, Medicaid, SCHIP, and mental health research. The commerce aspect also covers consumer safety, the Internet, travel and tourism, sports, vehicle safety, and noise pollution.

Believe it or not, that is only scratching the surface of the jurisdiction. The full rundown is here.

The cap and trade speed reader
Also referred to as "Cap and Trade" the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 was the focus of Thursday's hearing (actually a mark up) that featured that speed reader you may have heard about. The merits and flaws of cap and trade are a topic for another diary, though I generally support it as a first step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Instead, here's the deal with the speed reader. Barton tried a cheap procedural stunt to kill a bill that has overwhelming support in the House and the committee. In order to make a bill a part of the official proceedings, the clerk must read the bill into the record. That was fine in the early days of Congress when bills might be three pages long. The cap and trade bill was 946 pages, including the major amendments the minority was planning to introduce. These days, presiding officers routinely make a motion that the "reading of the bill be dispensed with" which normally passes with unanimous consent to save time.

Barton decided he wanted the 900+ pages read in the hopes that the supporters would just leave, (resulting in a lack of quorum) and/or Waxman would just give up and adjourn the meeting. Basically, he was angling for a House version of a filibuster.

Since one cheap political stunt deserves another, the committee hired Douglas Wilder to act as the committee's clerk and read the bill as quickly as possible. In fairness, Barton did say at the hearing that he was planning to agree to dispense with the reading, but he seemed interested in hearing the young man actually do it. Wilder went on for about half a minute and got applause before Barton relented.

Via Talking Points Memo, here is the video:



What was much more troubling was the 400+ amendments that the Republicans dreamed up to throw at the bill. Most of them failed, but they did cause the meeting to last 16 hours. The bill was reported from committee (i.e. it passed) by a vote of 33-25 with four Democrats voting against and one Republican (Bono-Mack) voting in favor. The bill will probably pass the House, but will face a committee markup and cloture vote in the Senate.

Other recent issues
One of the other more significant bills that the committee handled recently was the federal expansion of SCHIP by $33 billion. This program, run by states with federal assistance, helps to cover health care for children of low income families. The increase is funded by a new tax on cigarettes (so keep smoking for the good of the kids). This was the same bill that George W. Bush vetoed (one of only ten vetoes he exercised), which allowed us to mock him for hating children. On a related note, anyone with kids should look into this program as some states are fairly generous with guidelines for defining "low income."

On May 1, the committee met to discuss the state of college football's Bowl Championship Series and calls for a playoff system. This is a huge debate with fans; most other people could care less. To wit: three members of the committee showed up for it. Read all about it at espn.com, if you care.

Other recent issues have included U.S.-Cuba trade relations, the federal response to Swine Flu, secrecy surrounding a fatal explosion at a Bayer chemical plant, Cybersecurity, and several hearings about health care. Unfortunately, there are no future hearings listed on the committee's calendar and I hope that is due to the holiday break.

Reconciliation
As I pointed out last week, if health care reform happens via the reconciliation process, several committees in both chambers will have a say in the process. Furthermore, even if health care reform is handled without reconciliation, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Rules will all be key players in the House. Energy and Commerce's role, of course, will be in coverage for children and any revisions to Medicaid.

When (if) the health care reform debate gains traction in Congress, it is very likely that members of the committees involved will be asked to sit on a select committee, similar to the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Most select committee may only make recommendations on legislation and may not actually report a bill to the floor. On the other hand, the work of a select committee can become the basis for future law. Stay tuned on this one.

Taking it a step further, when (if) health care reform actually passes, there will be an inter-committee turf war/power struggle between the Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee over which one gets jurisdiction over a nationwide health insurance program. We might get extremely lucky and one committee will concede the jurisdiction to the other, but that is highly unlikely since that is the same as surrendering power. It's hardly the most pressing issue of the debate, but one that could hijack the whole damned thing.

Subcommittees
There are five subcommittees under the full committee. The chair and ranking member are ex-officio members with voting privileges of all subcommittees to which they are not assigned. The chair emeritus is a non-voting ex-officio member of the subcommittees on which he is not a member. This means Dingell can question witnesses and join the debate, but not vote on amendments and final reporting.

Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection: Bobby L. Rush of Illinois is the chair and George Radanovich of California is the ranking member. Here is the full membership list. The jurisdiction is as follows:

1. Interstate and foreign commerce, including all trade matters within the jurisdiction of the full committee;
2. Regulation of commercial practices (the Federal Trade Commission), including sports-related matters;
3. Consumer affairs and consumer protection, including privacy matters generally; consumer product safety (the Consumer Product Safety Commission); and product liability; and motor vehicle safety;
4. Regulation of travel, tourism, and time; and,
5. Toxic substances and noise pollution.


That's pretty self explanatory, but I am wondering which member has the ability to regulate time. Maybe Bobby Rush is a Time Lord from Gallifrey. (In fairness, this provision probably has to do with Daylight Savings Time, but the second someone goes and develops time travel, this committee is going to be very busy.)

Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet: The subcommittee is chaired by Rick Boucher of Virginia and Cliff Stearns of Florida is the ranking member. The full membership list is here.

The jurisdiction is simple, but inclusive:

Interstate and foreign telecommunications including, but not limited to all telecommunication and information transmission by broadcast, radio, wire, microwave, satellite, or other mode.


In other words, these are the people you can complain to the next time someone flashes a breast for half a second during the Super Bowl or a troll starts mucking about in your blog post.

Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment: Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts is the chair and Fred Upton of Michigan is the ranking member. The full membership list is here. Markey is also chair of the select committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

The subcommittee's jurisdiction is as follows:

1. National energy policy generally;
2. Fossil energy, renewable energy resources and synthetic fuels; energy conservation; energy information; energy regulation and utilization;
3. Utility issues and regulation of nuclear facilities;
4. Interstate energy compacts;
5. Nuclear energy and waste;
6. Superfund, RCRA, and the Safe Drinking Water Act;
7. The Clean Air Act; and,
8. All laws, programs, and government activities affecting such matters.


The committee recognizes that energy and environmental protection are necessarily intertwined. Energy production (i.e. coal power plants, nuclear reactors, oil and natural gas exploration) and consumption (i.e. driving, heating and air conditioning) have direct effects on the environment. Therefore, energy and environmental policy should be considered in tandem rather than in separate vacuums. Yes, sometimes government is efficient and intelligent.

Subcommittee on Health
: Frank Pallone, Jr. of New Jersey is the chair and Nathan Deal of Georgia is the ranking member. Here is the full membership list.

Again, the jurisdiction is straight forward, but encompassing:

1. Public health and quarantine; hospital construction; mental health and research; biomedical programs and health protection in general, including Medicaid and national health insurance;
2. Food and drugs; and,
3. Drug abuse.


Highlighting is mine. Hint: here are some members to track and contact when health care reform hearings start. Considering the pretty specific mention of "national health insurance" in the jurisdiction, this subcommittee will likely end up with authority over any future programs and policies.

Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: Bart Stupak of Michigan is the chair and Greg Walden of Oregon is the ranking member. Here is the full membership list. The subcommittee's jurisdiction is:

Responsibility for oversight of agencies, departments, and programs within the jurisdiction of the full committee, and for conducting investigations within such jurisdiction.


I could not locate a full list of the Executive Branch agencies that fall under the oversight provision. However, some of the obvious ones include Department of Energy, Commerce Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Consumer Product Safety Commission. Any additions would be welcome.

That's it for this week. Next week will likely be the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources since they will deal with Cap and Trade soon enough.

Crossposted at Daily Kos, Congress Matters, and Docudharma.

1 comment:

MickeyWhite said...

Economic Stimulus. H.R. 5140, the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, passed 385-35 on January 29, 2008 (Roll Call 25). It would provide about $150 billion in economic stimulus, including $101.1 billion in direct payments of rebate checks (typically $600) to most taxpayers in 2008 and temporary tax breaks for businesses. Creating money out of thin air and then spending the newly created money cannot improve the economy, at least not in the long term. (If it could, why not create even more money for rebates and make every American a millionaire?) The stimulus has no offset and thus increases the federal deficit by the amount of the stimulus because the government must borrow the rebate money. A realistic long-term stimulus can only be achieved by lowering taxes through less government and by reducing regulatory burdens. Marsha Blackburn voted FOR this bill.(Source: The New American – July 21, 2008)

Marsha Blackburn is my Congressman.
She is no conservative.
See her unconstitutional votes at :
http://bluecollarrepublican.com/blog/?p=614
Mickey