One of the most encouraging post-election developments was the House Democratic caucus’s vote yesterday to put Representative Henry Waxman in charge of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
It turns out that Iowa’s own Bruce Braley was a strong advocate for Waxman:
Waxman was generally respectful of [John] Dingell in his speech before the caucus, according to people who were in the room, but he took a few sharp jabs at the chairman. Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, who gave one of Waxman’s nominating speeches, went a step further, lashing out at Dingell for standing in the way of environmental reforms. He even complained that the speaker had to go around him to enact a renewable energy bill during the Democrats’ first year in power.
It’s important to note that just a week ago, Dingell was widely expected to hold on to the powerful committee chairmanship. Reid Wilson of Politics Nation blog observed,
Politics Nation is told Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, just elected to his second term, made an impassioned speech on Waxman’s behalf, blaming Dingell for blocking progress on a number of bills. Braley has been involved in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, co-chairing the Frontline program, but it’s still unusual to see such a junior member of congress question a more senior member, especially one who was serving his second term in Congress when Braley was born.
Braley took a big risk for a good cause, and progressives should thank him for that.
Some of Dingell’s supporters seemed to value Congressional protocol more than getting the job done under a new president. Here’s Representative Charles Rangel, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee:
“I have enjoyed the seniority system,” Rangel said. “It wasn’t broken.”
Actually, the system was broken if the narrow interests of Michigan manufacturers were repeatedly allowed to block legislation that’s in the national interest. Waxman’s primary goal was not to destroy the seniority system. If Dingell hadn’t been standing in the way of good environmental and energy policies for so many years, this challenge never would have happened.
This report from The Hill is worth reading in full, but here’s an excerpt:
And supporters of a more aggressive approach to climate change and more aggressive regulation were encouraged. Dingell was a chief advocate of automakers and was slow to warm up to Pelosi’s call for restrictions to limit climate change.
“I think it will be easier,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said of global warming restrictions. “I think anyone who’s watched the last couple of years would conclude it will happen more quickly and more smoothly. [Waxman] is better positioned to guide that.”
Supporters also said they wanted swifter implementation of the agenda of the Democratic Party and Obama.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), a Waxman ally for years, said Waxman supporters were mindful of 1993 and 1994 when Democrats controlled Congress and the White House for two years, then lost Congress in a dramatic fashion.
“The memory of ‘93 and ‘94 was seared into our minds,” Berman said. “We have to pass the program. The question was how that could best be done.”
I couldn’t agree more on both the substance and the politics of this decision.
The Hill also reported that the conservative Blue Dogs are very upset by yesterday’s vote, which they view as a “California takeover.” It does not mention Congressman Leonard Boswell, who is a member of the Blue Dog group.
I contacted the offices of Boswell and Representatives Dave Loebsack to inquire about their position on Waxman v. Dingell. I have not yet heard back from Loebsack’s press secretary. Boswell’s press secretary cut me off without letting me finish my question and refused to call me back, as usual.
I do find it amusing that Boswell’s press secretary in Washington still freezes me out. Even at the height of the third district primary battle, the press secretary from Boswell’s Congressional campaign headquarters in Des Moines had no problem sending me press releases and responding to my queries.