Joe Barton's Big Score

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 18 2010 4:39 PM

Joe Barton's Big Score

In June, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) used his opening statement at a hearing about the BP oil disaster to passionately apologize for the way the company was being talked about by politicians. You remember: He called the effort to create a recovery fund with BP's money a "shakedown."

At the time, the message from Republican leaders on Barton was that he would be punished for the comments by the course of time. He was allotted three terms as the highest-ranking Republican on Energy; the three terms were up. If Republicans won the House, he wouldn't be back. I was told this in no fuzzy terms by Republicans, as were other reporters.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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But who gets the job is not up to the leaders who don't like Barton. (And they really don't: Barton pointlessly challenged Boehner for leader in 2006.) It's the steering committee, which has the ability to grant Barton a waiver to continue as top Republican -- ie, chairman. So this is why you're seeing stories aimed at the men next in line for the job, Michigan's Fred Upton and Illinois's John Shimkus. (No one else is seen as a serious contender to Barton.)

Case in point: Lightbulbgate. Barton's forces have got out word that Upton wants to phase out incandescent lightbulbs. Politico reports:

Upton (R-Mich.) teamed up with California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman on 2007 legislation aimed at phasing out the use of incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy efficient bulbs. That language eventually became law as part of a larger energy bill. The pair co-sponsored another bill this May to establish another round of efficient light bulb standards.

This has allowed Barton to define Upton as a closet nanny-stater; Upton has since renounced his support for the phase-out, because Barton's successfully turned this into a wedge issue. But a source pointed me to the June 2007 hearing where Upton's bulb amendment was approved. Barton was not against it.

I just want to compliment all the various players on this particular issue. This is one of the few areas there has been constructive dialogue and bipartisanship between subcommittee and full committee, and I want to commend the full committee chairman, the subcommittee chairman, the ranking member, and the various members who have worked on this. This does appear to be an acceptable compromise that is an improvement to the base text.

If it seems odd that a chairmanship fight would turn over this, it is.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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