Thursday, November 20, 2008

Iowa's Clout May Increase Under Waxman

Iowa's Clout May Increase Under Waxman

Iowa may have been a big winner in today's epic vote that stripped a major committee chairmanship from the senior member of the House of Representatives.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California was elected chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, defeating incumbent John Dingell of Michigan. The vote was a 137-122 secret ballot in a closed door meeting, but Rep. Bruce Braley of Waterloo was one of three speakers on Waxman's behalf.

The Politico reports that Braley "lash(ed) 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."

The Waxman-Dingell rivalry that culminated in today's vote goes back decades. “It was like Zeus and Thor in there, hurling lightning bolts at each other. You just wanted to duck and get out of the way,” California Rep. George Miller, another leading Waxman supporter, told Congressional Quarterly. Despite mixing his Greek and Norse pantheons, Miller chairs the Education and Labor committee, and Iowa's Dave Loebsack is seen as a close Miller ally.

"Congressman Loebsack is looking forward to working with Chairman Waxman to repair our broken health care system and to reform our nation's energy policy," said a Loebsack spokesperson.

The switch is seen as a loss for the seniority system and a gain for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Californian who has long been close to Waxman.

"If it moves, it goes through the Commerce Committee" is the old Capitol Hill saying about the committee's broad jurisdiction over legislation, and in Waxman, the Obama administration will have a more certain ally than Dingell on energy and climate change issues. The change benefits wind and ethanol producing Iowa. Waxman has long supported stronger clean air and fuel efficiency standards. Dingell, as befits his Detroit area district, is a staunch auto industry defender.

Another way the move helps Iowa: Dingell and his wife, Democratic National Committee member Debbie Dingell, are among the leading critics of Iowa's first in the nation caucuses, and played big roles in Michigan's move to leapfrog past the DNC-approved primary calendar. Less clout for the Dingells means more clout for Iowa at scheduling time. (Having a friend of the caucuses in the White House won't hurt, either.)

Dingell was first elected at age 29 in a 1955 special election to replace his late father, and is on track to set a record early next year as the longest serving member in the 220 year history of the House. But despite being the "new guy," Waxman has been in the House 34 years, joining Congress in the 1974 Watergate class that included Tom Harkin.

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