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High Stakes For Pelosi, Party With Energy And Commerce Fight

By Emma Dumain, CQ Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — It started as a race to choose the next ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee; it could ultimately end as a referendum on the status quo.

When House Democrats finally settle the score this week, their choice between Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey and Anna G. Eshoo of California could send a strong message about how deeply members still hew to the seniority system.

And in a caucus growing increasingly antsy over the stasis at the leadership table, this ranking member election could be the closest thing to an up-or-down vote on Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that members get for the next two years.

Pelosi, who has repeatedly endorsed her close friend Eshoo, is expected to run unopposed for a sixth full term as the House’s top Democrat.

Lawmakers will not say so publicly, but many of them think that if Eshoo loses, it will be because she became a casualty of greater frustrations within the caucus.

The fight sparked by California Democrat Henry A. Waxman’s retirement announcement in January became so dramatic because there was never a clear frontrunner or an easy choice. Stakeholders agree Pallone and Eshoo’s policy positions are nearly identical, and their legislative records are unblemished.

So members were forced to consider other factors: Who called them first to ask for their vote? Who gave them money in a tough re-election bid? Who has always been their friend?

Eshoo, the No. 5 Democrat on the panel, has cast herself as a champion for colleagues who believe the seniority system should never be, as she said back in February, “sacrosanct.”

“With almost 50 percent of our caucus members being members of the Democratic Caucus with six years or less under their belts, then maybe for the seniority question, attitudes are changing,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., who in 2013 lost to a more senior member in a bid to be ranking member on Natural Resources.

Pallone, the committee’s No. 3 Democrat, has appealed to the caucus’ long-standing deference to seniority. The Congressional Black Caucus is especially protective of what it dubs the “historic tradition” that has allowed its members to steadily climb up committee leadership ranks.

“When I first came here 10 years ago, the conversation among members was, ‘Seniority mattered,'” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., the CBC’s likely chairman in the 114th Congress.

“As the years went on, the conversation became, ‘Seniority is important, but not controlling.’ Then the conversation was, ‘Seniority is a factor.’ And now the discussion among some is that seniority really should not be a determinant,” he said. “That is not the direction I want our caucus to go.”

Pelosi’s decision to insert herself into the race also was a turning point. It’s rare for leaders to take such strong public positions in gavel fights, and members and aides agree — no matter which candidate they support — the party leader is assuming some risk in coming out so strongly for her fellow Californian.

An Eshoo victory would show Pelosi’s influence remains strong as ever while a loss could raise questions about Pelosi’s clout at a time when she is trying to hold a demoralized caucus together after a bruising election cycle.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., one of Eshoo’s lead whips, told CQ Roll Call the leader’s backing wasn’t inappropriate, especially given Eshoo is godmother of the Pelosi children.

“She is the Democratic leader and also Anna Eshoo’s best friend, so if anyone thought she wasn’t going to endorse her, they hit their head on the way to work,” Thompson said. “There is not a single member of the Democratic Caucus who doesn’t want Nancy Pelosi’s support. There’s not one person who hasn’t come to her asking for her help.”

It’s true there are plenty of people supporting Pallone who are and will remain loyal to Pelosi, and for them the vote isn’t anything more than a simple preference.

Thompson was articulating what many members — Eshoo and Pallone supporters alike — have said privately in dozens of interviews with CQ Roll Call since Pelosi sent out that first endorsement letter back in February, though Pelosi insists there is more to it than friendship.

“I’m very proud of Anna Eshoo,” the minority leader volunteered at a news conference Thursday. “I think sometimes in the course of our legislative lives, a person comes along who is a perfect fit to take us into the future. I think that is who she is.”

Both ranking member hopefuls are working overtime to shore up 11th-hour support. Rep.-Elect Brad Ashford of Nebraska told CQ Roll Call that he’s already gotten calls from the candidates themselves, as well as from Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who is quietly but openly operating for Pallone.

And the sniping continues.

Team Pallone outed Eshoo for only giving money to vulnerable lawmakers who supported her ranking member bid; Team Eshoo hit back that Pallone only started giving money to everybody once the slot opened up.

Pallone’s camp pointed out Eshoo formed a leadership PAC in March, a sign she only recently got serious about being a “team player”; Eshoo’s backers have countered Pallone is hardly a paragon of sportsmanship, never making it a secret he’d rather be in the Senate.

Eshoo is likely to win phase one of the selection process and win the recommendation of the regional representatives, leaders, senior members and Pelosi appointments who make up the 50-plus-member Steering and Policy Committee. If a losing candidate receives more than 14 votes among that group, he or she can force a runoff among all the House Democrats. And that full caucus vote will come down to the razor-thin wire.

Of course, both sides insist they have the whole thing locked up.

AFP Photo/Win Mcnamee

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5 Anti-Science Congressmen On The House Science Committee


Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and former representative Todd Akin (R-MO) have more in common than a breathtaking lack of knowledge of and political tact on the subject of rape. They are also former colleagues on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

According to a 2009 Pew Poll, only 6 percent of scientists identified themselves as Republicans — and it’s easy to see why. Although Gingrey and Akin have moved on, many of the Republican congressmen in charge of setting the nation’s scientific agenda are openly hostile to overwhelmingly accepted scientific theories.

Here are five proudly anti-science members of the House Science Committee:
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Lamar Smith (R-TX)

Smith, the current chair of the committee, has publicly criticized scientists and journalists who are “determined to advance the idea of human-made global warming,” and he has backed up his rhetoric with a hard line voting record. During his 25-year tenure in Congress, Smith has voted to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, opposed tax credits for renewable energy and raising fuel efficiency standards and rejected the Kyoto Protocol.

As ThinkProgress points out, Smith has a powerful incentive to deny the existence of climate change: throughout his career, Smith has received $500,000 from the oil and gas industry.
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Paul Broun (R-GA)

The Tea Party-backed Broun, who has served on the Science Committee since 2007, appears to believe that scientists are literally tools of the devil. In an October speech at the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet, Broun declared, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.”

“And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior,” he added.

In the same speech, Broun claimed “I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.”
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Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI)

Sensenbrenner is a well-known climate change truther who has asserted that Earth has been cooling over the past 10 years, that Mars has been warming at a similar rate to Earth, and that global warming will help crop yields go up, making it “easier to feed 7 billion people,” among other flagrant falsehoods.

Sensenbrenner also rejects the fact that genetics influence weight, telling the obese to “Look in the mirror because you are the one to blame.” Along the same hypocritical lines, Sensenbrenner opposed First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” anti-obesity campaign due to her “large posterior.
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Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)

Rohrabacher is arguably Congress’ least informed member when it comes to climate science, strenuously arguing that climate change and global warming are either a hoax or a massive conspiracy perpetrated by scientists and liberals.

Most notably, Rohrabacher has claimed that “CO2 is irrelevant,” “polar bears are not becoming extinct,” and that “dinosaur flatulence” may have caused past climate changes.

Mo Brooks (R-AL)

Brooks is another climate change truther — having argued that global warming is an “aberration” and “guesswork speculation” — with an interesting twist: His district is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Perhaps that is why Brooks co-signed what ThinkProgress labeled an “Abandon Earth letter,” which argued that “Space is the ultimate high ground,” and that ” we can reorient NASA’s mission back toward human spaceflight by reducing funding for climate change research.”

Photo: Republican Conference via Flickr

Debt Panel Members Prompt Doubts

WASHINGTON (AP) — A conservative Texas Republican congressman has been chosen by House Speaker John Boehner to co-chair a powerful new committee tasked to find a bipartisan plan to slash the federal budget deficit by over $1 trillion.

Boehner, R-Ohio, announced Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s selection on Wednesday. At the same time, he named Reps. Dave Camp and Fred Upton, both of Michigan, to the committee. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., named Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio to the panel.

Toomey, a former House member who was elected to the Senate last year with Tea Party backing, is the only member named so far who voted against the legislation that created the committee. At the time, Toomey said he was “concerned that the long-term cuts over the next decade will not materialize.”

“All Congress has to do to override this bill’s spending restraints in the future is pass another law that overrides them,” Toomey said. “If Congress is truly serious about cutting spending, it would mandate serious spending cuts in next year’s budget — the only year in which cuts are actually guaranteed.”

Hensarling will provide a conservative counterweight to the Democratic co-chair, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, in what is shaping up as another debate in which Democrats will fight to protect entitlement programs while Republicans will adamantly oppose tax increases.

Hensarling, a five-term congressman from the Dallas area, is chairman of the House Republican Conference. He gets high marks from conservative groups for opposing taxes and abortion, while supporting gun rights. Murray is chairwoman of the committee to elect Democratic senators and a longtime protector of Democratic priorities such as Medicare, Social Security and veterans’ benefits.

“Times are tough, and American families have had to make many sacrifices over the last few years,” Hensarling said in a statement. “While they didn’t cause this debt crisis, they’ve learned how to make do by tightening their belts and living within their means. It’s time Washington did the same.”

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid named Murray, as well as Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., to the panel. Nine of the panel’s 12 positions are now filled. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will name the other three.

The committee is charged with coming up with at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings over the coming decade. It has until the day before Thanksgiving to come up with a plan that gets at least seven votes.

If it fails, or if the House or Senate votes down its recommendations, severe across-the-board spending cuts would be triggered automatically, hitting large swaths of the federal budget starting in 2013, including priorities dear to both parties. These include Medicaid, farm subsidies and the defense budget.

Camp is chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, which also oversees Social Security and Medicare. Upton is chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

On Wednesday, Camp made it clear he will continue to fight against “job-killing tax increases as a way to reduce our debt and deficits.”

“If we are successful in curbing the overspending in Washington that has sparked fear in the financial markets and created uncertainty on Main Street, we will start to see the job creation we desperately need,” Camp said.

In the Senate, Kyl is the No. 2 ranking Republican and Portman, a freshman, was a budget director under former President George W. Bush.

“Chronic joblessness, out-of-control deficits and debt, and an unprecedented credit downgrade represent an historic challenge but also an historic opportunity for lawmakers in Washington to show they can work together on a plan that puts America back on the path to prosperity,” McConnell said. “The American people know that we cannot dig ourselves out of this situation by nibbling around the edges, and I am confident that each of these (Senate GOP) nominees can be counted on to propose solutions that put the interests of all Americans ahead of any one political party.”