Republican Co-Author of Incandescent-Bulb Ban Seeks Chair of House Energy Committee

Monday, November 08, 2010
By Matt Cover

Rep. Fred Upton
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Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) seeks the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee

( Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) may have some explaining to do to fellow GOP colleagues as he seeks the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, given the incoming wave of new conservatives who may not appreciate some aspects of Upton’s voting record.

Upton joined with Rep. Jane Harman (D.-Calif.) in  2007 to co-author the legislation that effectively banned indoor incandescent light bulbs in the United States. In the last Congress, he an Harman teamed up again to offer new legislation that would extend the ban on incandescent bulbs to outdoor lighting also.

“In 2007, Harman and Upton introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation–which became law as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act–that bans the famously inefficient 100-watt incandescent light bulb by 2012, phases out remaining inefficient light bulbs by 2014, and requires that light bulbs be at least three times as efficient as today’s 100-watt incandescent bulb by 2020,” explained a 2009 press release put out by the two House members.  

Last year, after George Will wrote a column criticizing Upton’s and Harman’s proposal to extend the incandescent-bulb ban to outdoor lighting, the two House members sent a letter to the Washington Post complaining about the column and defending their legislative campaign against the incandescent bulb.

“Current incandescent bulbs on store shelves are obsolete and highly inefficient–only 10 percent of the energy consumed by each bulb is for light, and 90 percent is wasted on heat,” Upton and Harman told the Post. “Today’s incandescents employ the same technology as the bulbs Thomas Edison created more than 120 years ago. By upgrading to 21st-century technology, we will help preserve energy resources and reduce emissions, all the while saving American families billions of dollars in their electric bills.”

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“Naysayers aside,” wrote Upton and Harman, “in a few short years, every home will be on the front lines of reducing pollution and saving energy–one light bulb at a time.”

Upton is the second most senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce panel, behind current ranking member Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who is term-limited, according to House GOP conference rules. Barton, who also is seeking the chairmanship, can apply for a waiver from the GOP conference that would allow him to become chairman.

Upton, due to his seniority, is the frontrunner for the post and has recently sought to bolster his conservative credentials by vowing to investigate President Obama’s energy czar Carol Browner, EPA chief Lisa Jackson, and Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

“We’ll paint the curb yellow for them,” Upton told Politico [2] on Oct. 29.

However, in addition to sponsoring the bill to phase out incandescent light bulbs, Upton’s past votes [3] may also pose an obstacle for him as he tries to secure one of the most powerful chairmanships in the House. The most notable of these is his vote against extending the Bush tax cuts in 2005.

That bill, which ultimately passed, extended the cuts enacted in 2001 but contained reductions in programs that Upton had favored in the past, such as agriculture subsidies and conservation spending.

Upton originally made a name for himself as a freshman congressman in the 1990s for offering measures that would have enacted broad-based spending cuts. Upton also led the fight this year against the Obama administration’s efforts to impose Net Neutrality regulations on the Internet, and he opposed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) efforts to pass cap and trade legislation in 2009.

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Upton does have more than a few votes that might please incoming conservatives. In 2006, he voted to grant then-President George W. Bush a line-item veto on spending increases, if those vetoes were exercised to reduce the budget deficit.

Upton also voted for the original Bush tax cuts in 2001–before the massive Medicare entitlement was added–as well as the elimination of the marriage-tax penalty and the death tax.

Upton also voted for a 1999 bill that would have made it harder for Congress to raid the Social Security trust fund.

Other parts of Upton’s record may give him trouble. He voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008 twice: when it failed the first time and again, along with a bipartisan majority, when it came up again following the stock market collapse in October 2008.

Upton’s record on stimulus spending is also mixed. He voted for both of President George W. Bush’s stimulus packages in 2008 and against the Republican alternative to President Obama’s plan in 2009. However, Upton also voted against Obama’s stimulus package twice: once when it passed the House and then again when it was reconciled with the Senate version.

Other parts of Upton’s record are relatively uncontroversial. His record indicates that he is solidly pro-life and is generally opposed to financial regulation, opposing the Democrats’ 2010 effort to increase financial regulation.

Upton has also been a consistent supporter of the war on terrorism, voting against recent Democratic efforts to restrict both Presidents Bush and Obama in the conduct of that war.

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Upton has consistently supported campaign finance regulations, a thorn in the side of many conservative activists. 

Upton also has consistently opposed the controversial ObamaCare legislation, vowing in a Politico interview in October to use the Energy and Commerce Committee to attack the bill piece-by-piece.

“I know there’s going to be a vote to repeal the whole thing if we take over, but in all likelihood we’re not going to have the votes to override” a presidential veto, Upton told Politico. “I look at this a little bit like a Jenga game. It’s a good game with my kids. We’re going to look at the pieces.”

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