Incoming House Energy & Commerce Chairman Fred Upton
HH: This is the teaser interview, because I thought we would start with Chairman Fred Upton, who is taking over the gavel at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, regarded by many as the single most important committee in the House of Representatives. Congressman Upton is from Michigan’s 6th district. He is sadly a Wolverine, but he is back for a second appearance on the Hugh Hewitt Show. Welcome, Congressman Upton, and congratulations on becoming the chairman.
FU: Well, thanks, Hugh. It’s still Fred, and we hope that Michigan’s fortunes do turn, and we might be able to win against Mississippi State on January 1st.
HH: Well, actually, as a Big Ten guy, I will root for that one. But I’m not looking forward for the new coach, whoever it turns out to be. Congressman, last time you were here, you were not the chairman, you had been elected the chairman. There was a struggle over that. What did that struggle tell you, if anything, about where the House is, and what the job is going forward, and next year, and the year after?
FU: Well look, we’re anxious to take the gavel. I mean, John Boehner is going to be just a wonderful speaker, Eric Cantor, the team that we have in place, the meetings that we’ve already had in anticipation of the next Congress getting sworn in on January 5th, but you know, we’re going to have a very busy and crowded agenda. We’ve got to cut spending, we have to reduce the deficit by cutting spending, not by raising taxes. I think that’s going to be an early test that the voters, Americans, are going to look for us to achieve within the first year of Speaker Boehner’s two years. We have, for our committee, Energy and Commerce, lots of big things. Of course, the repeal of Obamacare is going to be right at the top of the list. I think you’ll see that vote very early in this next Congress. And not only am I convinced that all of the 243 Republicans are going to support the repeal, I believe that we’re going to have a significant number of Democrats, maybe as many as two dozen or more, are going to join with us. And when you put those two numbers together, we’re actually going to be not too far away from the 290 required to override a presidential veto if the bill actually gets that far. So that’s going to put some pressure on the White House, and certainly show an early test of the disdain, the dislike that not only the new Congress has, but our constituents have as well as it relates to health care. On energy, which is obviously an important part of our portfolio on the Energy and Commerce committee, we’re not prepared for the future. We want jobs, and we want to create new jobs here. And before the end of the next decade, we’re going to need 30-40% more electricity than we use today. We’re not prepared for that. We’ve seen what China’s done the last couple of months, where they’ve literally shut off electricity to a number of communities throughout their country. That cannot happen here. We want to be all of the above. We want to be looking at the drilling offshore, we want to be looking gat natural gas, we want to be looking at nuclear, and by the way, I’m one that believes that the pro-nuclear effort in the House is at least a 2-1 majority when you look at the Democrats that will side with us. You look at telecommunications, and of course you saw this issue that came out of the box just this last week now with the FCC’s decision on net neutrality. That’s not going to stand. Actually, an interesting little piece is that there were, I want to say there were 95 Democratic candidates for Congress who ran in support of net neutrality. And the batting average was 100%. Every single one of them lost their election. This is an issue that we don’t need, and I think most Americans feel that Congress doesn’t perform very well, and they know that the internet does. We’re not going to let the FCC regulate the internet and take those rights away from us. So…
HH: Let’s start there for a second, Congressman, although it’s a little bit further down…
FU: No, it’s Fred. Hugh, it’s still Fred.
HH: I know…
FU: Use that for somebody else.
HH: But you’re the chairman, and I’ve got standards, and we have standards…
FU: Too bad.
HH: I call the chairman the chairman. So Mr. Chairman…
FU: It’s still Fred.
HH: Net neutrality is, you know, I’ve covered a little bit here. It’s so, you know, eyes glaze over when I try to explain pricing structure and regulatory impact, and who the big guys are the little guys are. But this came out of the left for the left. How quickly do you think you can get a repeal of it in place, and an absolute bar on the FCC frolicking in this field again?
FU: Well, a couple of things. We sent some tough letters in the last couple of weeks warning them not to do this. We’re not going to see the actual order until sometime in January. And once that order is released, we then have an opportunity to take action. First of all, it’ll be one of the first big hearings that our committee has. I think we’re looking at dates now with the schedule. But the chairman of that subcommittee Greg Walden, very capable guy from Oregon, we’re going to be asking all five FCC commissioners to come up in January. We’re going to hear from them. But that’ll be just the first of a number of hearings. We’re going to be looking at the Congressional Review Act, which you might remember, I want to say it was in 1998, about a dozen years ago, when it was used to rescind the regulations that the Department of Labor put out on ergonomics. Remember that?
HH: Oh, yes. Oh, very, yes.
FU: We stopped it. And we’re going to be looking at that possibility to stop this, once we see the orders. There’s a way that you can actually bring this Congressional Review Act without going through the filibuster process. It’s a privileged motion in the Senate. There’s certain days, I think we have to do it within 60 days of, legislative days of when the order is filed. The minority can introduce it in the Senate, so it is filibuster proof. And we’re going to be off to the races if they persist, which it certainly looks like they are. Now on this order, it’ll be one of our first big tests. And again, I think that you’re going to see bipartisan support to overturn it. You might remember as we’ve looked at telco issues before, and I was the former chairman, I am a former chairman of the Telco subcommittee, it was always bipartisan.
FU: And I know that there are a number of Democrats that are as alarmed as certainly Greg Walden, myself, Lee Terry, the vice chairman of the subcommittee, Marsha Blackburn, I mean, again, this is more than just a Republican issue. It’s a jobs issue. It doesn’t make any sense.
HH: While we’re on the FCC, let me just also ask, it’s sort of obviously, but the Fairness Doctrine has brooded…
FU: It’s done. Get the fork out. We’re not going to let that thing happen.
HH: All right. Just thought I’d put it on the record.
FU: No, I mean hey, look, how many radio stations…you don’t need anything like that. Now you might have one commissioner there that particularly likes the thing. But you know, it is, we’re not going to let that happen.
HH: You know, the other thing that threatens radio…
HH: …is that big argument over copyright fees, royalty fees. Is that something that you’re going to concern yourself with quickly to put an end to that one as well?
FU: Well, it’s, you know, there’s been legislation introduced on both sides of that issue. And it’s, as I have looked at it as a Congressman from Michigan, I knew that that would hurt my Michigan broadcaster in a major way. And so I have not supported those royalty fees going from the radio stations back to the songwriters, et cetera. The times are tough enough. I don’t know whether there’s a possibility of some balance there or not. But I don’t see it as a front burner issue at this point.
HH: It’s another job killer. Now let me ask you, since we’re on inside baseball stuff, something I’ve actually covered here a lot, and I’ve covered with your former governor, John Engler quite a lot, is the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act of 2008. It killed jobs. It crushed people. Is your committee going to take that up and fix what was a rush job that had a thousand unintended consequences, all of them bad?FU: We’re going to be looking at all of the unintended consequences that are out there. Mary Bono, we changed the name of the subcommittee. It’s going to Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. I’ve actually had some lengthy conversations with John Engler, who, good news, I meant to call him today with his new job, you know, heading the Business Roundtable, moving on from the National Association of Manufacturers. But that is something that I think Mary Bono will want to look at as the new chair of that subcommittee, as well as Cliff Stearns, the chairman of the Oversight subcommittee. Let’s look at all these unintended consequences, and see what works and what doesn’t.
HH: Do you think, by the way on politics, Fred Upton, that the move to the Business Roundtable forecloses John Engler running for Senate against Senator Stabenow?
FU: Well, I know John pretty well. And man, he was a great governor for twelve years. But I think he’s, even though he’s still very active in politics just because of the role that he has, you know, not only at NAM, certainly as Michigan governor and with the Republican Governors Association, I never thought that he really wanted to get back in the political arena. He’s his own boss with his wife, Michelle, and their kids. And I don’t see him going back to run for office, even though it sure would be competitive, that is for sure, for a seat that’s been Democrat for a long, long time.
HH: Anyone on your short list to take on that challenge, because it could be a pretty good Republican year again.
FU: Well, we sure hope that it will be. There are a number of people that are thinking about it. A big question mark, of course, is my friend, Pete Hoekstra, who came just a little big short in the race for governor in the primary.
FU: And we’re not sure what…and he of course left the job in Congress, but he did a super job as chairman of the Intel committee, very good business acumen. He came from Herman Miller, served in the Congress with great distinction, you know, good messaging. We’ll have a good number of people that are thinking about it. Maybe, you know, in a few months, I might have a better idea.
HH: I’ll be right back with Fred Upton, incoming chair in the 112th Congress of the powerful Energy and Commerce committee in the House of Representatives.
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HH: We’re going to start calling him Chairman Call Me Fred Upton. I only call Barnes Fred around here, Mr. Chairman.
FU: Well, he’s a good guy, too.
HH: Yeah, we like him. Now let’s go to the energy side of this and some environmental questions. First of all, your predecessors on the other side of the aisle wanted to amend the Clean Water Act to allow them to basically regulate rain. Is that dead? Is that over?
FU: We’re not going to regulate rain. I can tell you this, and I think Lisa Jackson, the administrator of EPA, I think she might have testified one time before our committee the last two years. And we made the point of making sure that we don’t know whether we’re going to have to report to the IRS that she’s going to get free parking as a benefit up here on Capitol Hill, but she’s going to be up here a lot more. She’s going to need to defend what EPA is trying to do. And I will say this. You know, since I talked to you last, EPA had threatened to do these boiler regulations. You know, this is involving, really, most businesses across the country. And we sent some pretty tough letters over the last four, six weeks. And they backed off on them. So that was a good sign. And as we look at all these regulations that EPA has got their hands in, we’re going to be looking at all of them. And you might remember that as a matter of the Pledge, something that Kevin McCarthy did really good work on, and most Republicans, including myself, embraced this last fall, one of the planks in that was that we want to examine all of the regulations that impose costs that exceed, I want to say, it was $200 million dollars on businesses across the country. So we’re going to take that up as an issue, and it’s one of the reasons why we’ve assigned Cliff Stearns to be the chairman of the very important subcommittee on oversight and investigations. And I would imagine that they’re going to, and I saw Cliff yesterday, he’s already got about his next three months of hearings, maybe as many as two a week, and beginning to plan out, and EPA’s going to be a part of that. And John Shimkus, too.
HH: Well, EPA announced in that second to last week of December that their carbon regulations will be appearing in July of ’11, and they expect adoption in March of ’12. I assume that your committee will have a lot to say about that.
FU: You are not kidding. We are going to have a lot, we will have a big focus on that. We’re starting to staff up to gear up for it, both John Shimkus, who will chair the Environment and the Economy subcommittee, as well as Ed Whitfield from Kentucky, who is going to chair the Energy subcommittee, and Cliff Stearns. We’re going to have a triple approach, and we’re going to be focuses big time on those. I want to see what they look like.
HH: Good. I want to circle back, though, to the Clean Water Act, because out here in the west, and I’ve been doing this for twenty years, when the Army Corps of Engineers gets pulled in to regulate dry beds, and then the lefties, the environmentalists want to expand the jurisdiction over what is in essence intermittent streams and dry beds, contrary to…they look at Congress and they see you guys never amend the Clean Water Act to specify what it is. Is that something you want to take on?
FU: Well, let me say two things. From the start, we’ve said we’re not going to let this administration regulate what they’re unable to legislate. But what I’ve done is, we have some pretty strong vice chairs on each of the subcommittees on our committee. And I am going to be, well, it’s going to happen, each one of our vice chairs are going to serve on the Oversight subcommittee. And that way, they can witness first hand all of the issues before the subcommittee on agencies that might have run amok, fraud and abuse, all those different things, and then use that wisdom, that work that they did on the subcommittee on oversight, and then move immediately to the subcommittee that they serve on with the legislative authority to come back and hopefully fix it. And this will be, our Oversight subcommittee is going to be very active. And when you combine that with what Darrell Issa’s going to be doing, and the relationship that we have together, we’re going to be looking to not only expose this junk, but then to come back and fix it.
HH: Now, you know, in his last press conference before the turning of the calendar, President Obama extolled the burst of what he called, you know, cooperation. I’m not so happy with what happened in the lame duck Congress, but a lot of people like it, and let’s take him at his word. So this sets up the oversight committee. And you know the mainstream media is going to be sitting there looking at your subcommittee and saying you’re being obstructionist, you’re torturing and tormenting these hard working and dedicated members of Team Obama. Have you sat down with your colleagues to say we’ve got to do this exactly right? We can’t be in the inquisition business, but we’ve got to be in the oversight business. It’s a delicate balance here, Congressman.
FU: Well, no, it’s still Fred. I’m going to keep saying that.
HH: Okay, I slipped back there.
FU: We are going to be very active on the Oversight and Investigation subcommittee. And you know, often, and you can say this looking back the last forty, fifty years, often when you have the Congress that’s the same party as the White House, the action probably wasn’t as stringent as it should be. Well, obviously we have a little change here with a Republican Congress and a Democrat president. And we’re going to be tough on these guys. They’re going to have to be accountable. We’re going to make them accountable, particularly as you look at the issue that most Americans are concerned about, and that’s jobs. You know, in my state, Michigan, we’re almost 13% unemployment, and we’ve been that way for three years. It’s not a lot of fun looking at the homes that are foreclosed, and the number of communities that are practically filing for bankruptcy, and the tough times that those of us in the Midwest are experiencing now. And if you come back and look at something like, take the cap and trade bill. And what Republican running for office this last fall wasn’t attacked by their somebody that they were running against, Democrat or whoever, for wanting to “export jobs.” No one wants to export jobs, but I’ll tell you, the thing that would have exported jobs faster than anything else would have been the passage of the cap and trade bill. Those jobs, when you increase, and for us in the Midwest, cap and trade was going to raise our electricity costs by almost 20% overnight. Those jobs would have gone to India and China, and they never would have come back.
HH: Now in that regard, just at the end of the year, California, my home state now, though I’m originally from Ohio, adopted its own cap and trade, 600 different facilities coming under the California Air Resources board. This looks to me like a violation of Interstate Commerce, Fred Upton, in a way that’s profound. It really does interfere with the national market. I’m curious if you think Energy and Commerce or one of the subcommittees, can take a look at what California’s doing, Arnold behind it or no Arnold behind it, and say you know, this is not the way to go.
FU: Well, we may look at it. We’ve got a busy plate, that’s for sure. And I would say that most observers, if not all, would say cap and trade now with the election, and John Boehner as Speaker, and the Republican takeover in the House, cap and trade, even though it passed the House a year ago, year and a half ago, it’s dead. It’s DOA now. I mean, it’s not going to come back here on the national scene, maybe, I mean, and maybe in some way, it may have a hearing or something like that in the Oversight subcommittee, but we’ve got a lot of things to do, and knowing that it’s not going to be a national issue anymore, our focus may not be as, may not be on the…but it actually would be pretty interesting to see what happens. You know, my brother lives in California. I know that this is the first time in the Census that California hasn’t gained a Congressional seat, right?
HH: Yup. We’re the new Michigan.
FU: The population stayed flat?
HH: We’re the new Michigan. We’re going to challenge you for the one state depression here shortly.
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HH: Okay, I’ll yield to the floor to Fred Upton.
FU: All right.
HH: Fred, let me ask you about doing, you’re going to repeal Obamacare in the first week, or send it over to the Senate. That’s great. Now there’s another agenda. If that gets stopped up in the Senate, or the President vetoes it, what about some positive stuff like opening up the interstate market, like health savings accounts?
FU: We’re going to do all that. You know, I look at this, you know that game Jenga, right?
FU: I don’t know if you’re a dad or not.
FU: But it’s a good game to play with your kid. I look at health care as the Jenga game. For those listeners who don’t know what it is, these are little blocks, and you pile them up in groups of three, and you take one out and you restack it at the top. And ultimately, the thing comes down. We’re going to be looking at all of the different parts in health care, and start taking them out of that stack. So as an example, my friend, Dave Camp, who you’re going to have on, he’s going to be looking at that 1099 piece. And as you know what that is, any business that has a business to business transaction that exceeds $600 dollars over the course of the year has to file a 1099 with the IRS. Both businesses do. So I sat down with the chairman of AT&T, who came to see me earlier this summer. They figure five million 1099’s they’re going to have to file.
FU: I mean, who is going to read all this? Who is going to process all this stuff? I mean, that’s the reason why they want to hire 15,000 new IRS agents, right?
FU: And of course, this sets the stage for a VAT tax. I mean, that’s really what this thing does. But we’re going to be looking at all these different pieces. So we’ll look at the piece on this court case that’s going on now. We had a good ruling last week on the individual mandate.
FU: The Florida judge is going to rule, I think, this month, and will be the fourth judge. But we’ll look at taking out, repealing just the individual mandate piece. And you know what? Not only do I believe you’ll get every Republican to vote to repeal that in the House, you’ll have a number of Democrats as well. So the White House is going to be fighting fires all over the place, on all these different pieces that we think are bad within the health care bill. And we’re going to keep that as a front burner issue for the next two years, and hopefully get a president, maybe this one, that’ll say you know what? We just went too far, it needs to be repealed, sort of what we did with Bill Clinton back on welfare reform back in the 90s. It took him three times, but he finally signed it. And you would have thought he wrote the bill himself.
HH: Well, good luck on the Jenga strategy. Yeah, good luck on that. My producer plays Jenga all the time. That’s why I know about it.
HH: Let me close by asking you about, it’s a good children’s game, about you and Dave Camp and Michigan. It’s my law school, so I’m concerned about the state, even though I root against them in football. Anything about what you guys can do for Detroit? Have you ever sat down and said you know, our major industrial centers are just racked after decades of bad governance?
FU: Well, Detroit is a special case.
FU: And I do have, and I come from the other side of the state. I’m much closer to Chicago. I’m only an hour and a half drive is where my hometown is. We get all the Chicago media over the air, radio and TV. But Detroit has really been a tough city. And I would say that we’re all encouraged by the new mayor. Of course, Kwame’s, I think he’s in jail, the former mayor.
FU: But Dave Bing, former NBA basketball player, all of us, he ran, never run for office before, he’s doing it for all the right reasons. We want to be supportive of him. But until the state recovers, I mean, they’re sort of part and parcel. We’ve got a new governor, Rick Snyder, who’s off to a very good start. He gets sworn in on January 1st, and he knows, he’s from Ann Arbor, he knows that the fortunes of Michigan are dependant in large part upon Detroit. And Dave Camp, my good friend, and all of us, Candace Miller, Mike Rogers from Michigan, we’re going to be working to see what we can do to help. But again, the issue is jobs.
HH: And so we close with a minute. The international trade aspect of that, you’ve got the international border, you’ve got an export center there. Are you going to move those agreements through the committee quickly, and do you expect to finally get these things done?
FU: Yeah, it’s not really my committee, I don’t think. But we want to help Detroit. We know that that’s the face that people outside of Michigan have. And they’ve gone through some pretty brutal, tough, tough economic times. But not only to help folks in Detroit and in Michigan, but elsewhere around the country as well have good jobs. And that’s where I think having a decent energy policy, we can do that.
FU: I mean, if we can, if we look at nuclear energy, and I look at the two nuclear plants that are in my district when they were constructed back in the early 70s, 85% of the components came from this country. And now, a new nuclear plant, and they’re starting to build one in Georgia, 85% of the components come from outside the country. Let’s turn the switch from red to green, and we can get some good, decent jobs here, and really focusing on strengthening the economy, period.
HH: Fred Upton, great pleasure having you back, look forward to talking to you in 2011. Good luck with the 112th Congress.
FU: So did you want me to say Go Bucks? I won’t say it.
HH: (laughing) I wasn’t going to go that far. Thank you, Fred Upton.
End of interview.