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Waxman Challenging Dingell For Energy & Commerce Chair

House Energy & Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) is being challenged for the chairmanship of that committee by Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who is on the committee and currently chairs the Government Oversight committee.

Dingell, who won his re-election bid easily with 70% of the vote according to a Michigan paper, is one of the longest-serving House members, let alone Democrats, and has had good relations with broadcasters. The committee has oversight over the FCC and communications matters.

There has been concern among broadcasters over the past few elections, particularly after redistricting tightened Dingell's re-election races that Dingell could lose and long-standing media critic Waxman, the second in line behind Dingell in terms of seniority on the committee, would get the top spot.

In a letter on his Web site declaring he was going after the post, Waxman suggested he was the better man for the job, saying "we will need the very best leadership in Congress and our committees to succeed."

He listed energy, climate change and health care among his priorities, but made no mention of communications. On Thursday, Chairman Dingell put out a letter to his colleagues talking about all three issues and touting the committee's record (see below)

The Dingell forces are confident the right man for the job already wields the gavel, and has the support to keep it. “We are getting tremendous support," said Commerce Committee Communcattions Director Jodi Seth. "Members understand we need a strong, effective legislator who has the proven ability to address the complex issues facing our nation such as healthcare and energy policy.  Chairman Dingell has the best credentials for this job and we are confident we have the votes to win.” 

A "whip" team of Democratic legislators supporting Dingell, including fellow Michigander Rep. Bart Stupak and Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, scheduled a conference call with reporters late Thursday to talk about that vote-getting effort. Both said they were confident Dingell would retain his chairmanship, saying they were surprised by Waxman's move. Doyle said he had talked with Waxman, who could not give him a reason why Dingell should be replaced other than Waxman thought he would be a better chairman. That was not good enough, they said, to justify displacing the "dean" of the House, adding that Waxman did not have the votes to get the chairmanship.

Waxman made no friends in the broadcast news operations, for example, when he grilled network news heads, NBC in particular, after the some missed calls in the razor-thin 2000 presidential race. He has also pushed for free airtime for candidates.

Waxman is also familiar to media companies from his efforts to increase regulations on over-the-counter drug advertising, his concern about product placement, and cracking down on media depictions of smoking.

Following is the letter sent from Dingell to colleages asking for their support:

Dear Democratic Member:

Please accept my congratulations on your victory in an historic election. 

          When Democrats convene to organize for the 111th Congress, I will be seeking another term as Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and I am writing to ask for your support.   

When the new Congress commences on January 3, 2009, many issues will deserve and demand attention.  From enacting new initiatives proposed by President Obama to pursuing long-standing Democratic priorities such as protecting Medicare and Medicaid, the Committee on Energy and Commerce will be ready to tackle those challenges swiftly and effectively.  There are, however, at least three priorities that I envision for our Committee.

            First, it is time that we enact broad health care reform so that the nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance can get the care they need, and that those Americans with health insurance can continue to afford it in times of economic distress such as now.  But for George W. Bush's veto pen, the Committee would have enacted legislation to provide health care coverage to nine million children across the country.  They cannot wait any longer and I need your help in providing them and their families --your constituents-- with affordable, quality health care now.

            Second, we must take the next steps in addressing the issue of climate change.  The seriousness with which I view this issue is reflected in the 461 page discussion draft I released in October, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent.  In the 110th Congress, we developed a solid record in the Committee on which to legislate.  An Obama presidency will allow us to quickly complete our work and protect the environment.  We cannot regain the skilled, high- paying manufacturing jobs around the country that George W. Bush exported until there is regulatory certainty on this matter and each day we fail to provide that is one more day before business starts re-investing in America.  Similarly, we need to make massive and unprecedented investments in technologies that will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and create new jobs and opportunities as we make the transition to a green and more sustainable economy. 

            Third, we need to ensure the safety of our food and drug supply in a global economy.  Every day brings new reports of contaminated or adulterated products entering our system.  We can no longer allow FDA to be overstretched and underfunded.  Already, I’ve released draft legislation to strengthen and adequately fund FDA, thereby improving the safety of food, drugs, medical devices, and cosmetics.  Work on the “Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act” continues.  I will introduce this bill early next year and intend to move it through the Committee with the utmost speed.

           I am proud to say that the Committee on Energy and Commerce has proven repeatedly that it is capable of moving, and seeing signed into law, enormously complex and difficult legislation.

            During the last Congress alone, this Committee saw 91 of its bills passed by the House, and 27 laws enacted.  Those laws included measures to ban discrimination on the basis of genetic information, to ban lead in children’s products and strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission, to guarantee that people can receive mental health benefits in insurance plans, to block cuts in payments to physicians in Medicare and thus assure our 44 million Medicare enrollees that they can continue to see their doctors, to improve drug safety with a post-market monitoring program, and to remove 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2030 through a range of energy efficiency standards.

            It will likely take more than the next two years to undo the damage done in the past eight years, but the Committee on Energy and Commerce has already laid the foundation.  To get the job done, I will need your counsel.  I will need to know what you and your constituents think.  I want to talk to you at your earliest convenience about your priorities and your views on the important issues within the Committee's jurisdiction, because even with the best intentions, we cannot keep our majority unless we are constantly mindful and sensitive to the diversity of views that make up our caucus.

            As Speaker Pelosi said yesterday, “The country must be governed from the middle.  The country must be governed from the middle.  I say that as being a proud progressive Democrat in the Congress of the United States and as Speaker of the House.  The point is, you have to bring people together to reach consensus on solutions that are sustainable and acceptable to the American people.”

        It would be an honor and privilege to again serve my colleagues, the House of Representatives, and the Nation as Chairman of the Committee.  I ask for your guidance and support.