Texas Rep. Barton goes all out to win House energy panel chairmanship

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 5, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Texas Rep. Joe Barton has taken a scorched earth approach to getting a waiver to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the next Congress.

Barton, term-limited by GOP rules to six years as the top Republican on a committee, Thursday sent out letters to the incoming 60-and-counting Republican freshmen asking them for support. The House Energy and Commerce Committee minority press staff took the unusual step of publicizing the move by distributing a sample copy of the letter.

“Over the past four years, as Ranking Member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, I have led the charge against radical cap-and-trade legislation, fought the new entitlements and mandates that are the rotten core of President Obama’s health care law, and consistently applied free market principles to legislative decisions,” wrote Barton. “It’s been an uphill battle, and I’m grateful that, thanks to your votes, the cavalry is riding to the rescue.”

The freshmen are expected to be influential, but the task of selecting committee chairs – as well as appointments to committees – is delegated to the GOP Steering Committee, which is effectively controlled by the Republican leader, presumptive the likely House speaker, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio.

"Mr. Barton hopes and believes the GOP Conference will give him his second term as chairman,” said Lisa Miller, spokeswoman for the Republicans on Energy and Commerce Committee.

Barton’s tactic in contacting the freshmen appears to be aimed at exerting pressure on the panel and could lead to an attempt, if necessary, to override a House GOP Steering Committee recommendation on the chairmanship, since the entire House Republican Conference then votes on the steering panel’s choices.

“I think it’s a desperation move,” said George Edwards, distinguished professor of political science at Texas A&M University, Barton’s alma mater. “You would never antagonize a brand new speaker. It’s a 'Hail Mary.'”

“They’re not going to cross a brand new leadership team,” he said of the freshmen. “I think it’s over for him.”

Barton starts out with several strikes against him: He briefly challenged Boehner as leader several years ago.

And his apology to BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward in June over what he called a White House “shakedown” for a $20 billion compensation fund for the Gulf oil spill still resonates with many members – even after he apologized, under pressure from Boehner and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the presumed majority leader.

Last week, Barton startled K Street lobbyists by sending out another massive e-mail from the Energy and Commerce Committee that included articles from trade publications with Barton outlining his agenda as chairman for the next Congress.

In his letter to the incoming House freshmen, Barton links to an article by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, now chairman of FreedomWorks and a tea party leader, who praises his former colleague.

Barton asks for the freshmen's support, saying: "If this sounds like a speech, well, it is. One of the first major decisions waiting for you in Washington is deciding who will be the leaders of the next Congress. I’m supporting John Boehner for speaker. I also hope to participate, myself, as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. I’ll need the support of people like you who are coming to Washington with change on their minds and determination in their hearts.”

Barton served one term as chairman from 2004-2006 when the GOP held the majority. He also served out the term of former Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., for a few months in 2004, but that's not being counted against the term limits.

Barton has been the ranking Republican for the last four years – putting him at the end of his six-year term limit and in need of a waiver – a distinction he disputes. He recently told McClatchy that he didn't think he needed a waiver, only a “rules clarification.”

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