Energy And Commerce Committee: Lighting The Way Of The Future Essay, Research Paper
America beings her trek into the 21st Century with a very rocky start, for the prices of gasoline and crude oil are continually increasing, the stock market perpetually slowing down, a shortage of power supply for the entire state of California and several other states nation wide, plus the threat of a recession lurking around the corner; these are among the many obstacles that are blocking America?s road to success. Congress will attempt to emend these issues, plus numerous others, in order to keep American and her citizens on the fast track to victory and individual glory. In lieu of all of the energy and technological problems the 107th Congress will be forced to combat over the next eight months, this essay focuses on the House of Representatives? Committee of Energy and Commerce. And how the new leadership of this committee is attempting to tackle new issues of the day, while undergoing overhauls in order to make the passing of legislation easier. And in turn, how this will affect forth-coming politics and policymaking, as well as party leadership. This essay will attempt to prove with the right mixture of centralized and fragmented power Congress can become a welled oil machine for passing legislation, instead of the political grid lock of the past five to ten years.
The Energy and Commerce Committee is the oldest committee in Congress. Created over 206 years ago; it has undergone numerous leadership style changes, and is as well, one of the only committees to be continually effected as a result of the increasing amount of technological advances which swipe our nation at lightening speeds.
The current chairman of the House?s Energy and Commerce Committee is Wilbert Joseph Tauzin, II?Billy for short. Chairman Tauzin is a Republican from Louisiana; whose has been a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee since 1981, when he was first elected into the House of Representatives. Like all freshmen Congressmen, Billy came into Congress with ambitions to quickly rise to the top and achieve long lasting power and hold all of the important key positions; however this was not to be the case. Yet during his 20 plus years thus far in Congress, he has not lost the passion he had when he first started out. ??It is part of Southern tradition to be passionate. Passion is what touches people?. And as you will see, Billy J. Tauzin has a gift for not only touching people, but moving them as well.
Tauzin?s predecessor to the House?s Energy and Commerce Committee was Thomas J. Bliley, Jr. a Republican from Virginia. Unlike Tauzin, who has been quoted say, ?I want to move bills? (Ota).; Bliley spent much of his term in political gridlock. He took a very conservative approach to policy making, which in some cases more than likely inhibited the proposed bill from ever becoming law. This allowed for the House?s Energy and Commerce Committee to be less constructive than they were under Bliley?s predecessor John D. Dingell, A Democrat from Michigan. Dingell was able to turn the committee into a well-oiled policy turning machine. Enabling countless bills to be born, and enviable killed, and several which actually survived both the House and Senate floors to be brought into law (Davison, pg 213). When asked how he felt about Tauzin?s leadership and policy-making abilities, Dingell replied:
?He is very more active than he predecessor. He and I would probably agree more than Bliley and I would? This may be due to the fact that Tauzin is very moderate in his actions and endeavors.
When Tauzin first started out as a Freshman Congressman, and up until his fourteenth year, he was not a card-carrying member of the GOP, but a loyal Southern Democrat. This fact explains why, at times, he can seem very liberal in his ideologies and actions. Although Tauzin switched parties in 1995 because of a personal platform change, many of his tactics are still rooted in his old populist Southern Democrat views, though he always seems to manage to add some Republican flare to his actions which makes both parties feel at ease agreeing with his views and political legislation. His capability to toggle between the Republican and the Democratic parties gives him a unique upper edge of being a popular and strong leader within the House?s political hierarchy. But do not question Tauzin?s loyalty, thou he may sport some liberal ideologies, Tauzin believes strongly in the Republican Party. This can be seen in his continual aiding with obtaining campaign contributions for slated freshman hopefuls, and those republicans who look as thought hey might have a hard time getting re-elected in their district.
Over the past two years Tauzin has traveled across the country on an effort to raise over an estimated eight million dollars for fellow republican. For those whom he gave financial contribution, 94 Representatives in a two-year period, almost all walked away with a victory (Appendix A). Making the loyalty to the party stronger than it would have been at such an early stage of the Congressmen/women?s Congressional career. This is very similar in to the route Newt Gingrich took with the Republican Party in the late 1980?s and early 1990?s, in an effort to re-united them.
Not only is Tauzin wanting to unite the GOP, he is also striving to unite his committee. His wanting to create a family-web can be seen through his relationship with the six sub-committee chairmen. Tauzin believes all members on the committee should have the right to be heard and taken seriously. He does not want to hold the only true power position in the group, nor does he wish for all members to be fighting for more power than another member. Thus, Tauzin has created a group of men and women who each have an equal voice, and who are led by Tauzin and the six sub-committee chairmen, whom he calls his generals.
Tauzin wants his sub-committee chairs to have power and a hand in the politickings of their particular group. But they in-turn should be able to work holistically so legislation can be effectively passed. At an interview in January of this year, Tauzin was asked how he views his current relationship with other ranking members on his committee, his response was: ?I used to be a one-general army. Now I have six generals? (Ota).
Among one of the six sub-committee chairs is Representative Cliff Stearns from the 6th Congressional District in the state of Florida. When Representative Stearns was asked how he perceived Tauzin?s new ?Get?em and Go? attitude and agenda, Stearns replied:
?He is not only an effective leader, but also a great businessman as well. He has the innate ability to strike up a deal and/or compromise? I feel privileged to be among one of his ?six? generals?. With Billy in charge there?ll be much success this year and in the upcoming years for the Republican Party and it?s leadership.? (Stearns)
However, Tauzin is not just focusing internally on his committee, but he is looking outwardly by fixing the inner relations among all Congressmen. He is also extending his leadership and inter-personal skills to the entire floor of the House. For not only is Billy a committee Chairman, but he also is currently one of Thomas De Lay?s deputy whips. Thomas Delay is currently majority whip of the House, for the Republican Party. By Tauzin working hand in hand with De Lay, he will be more likely to gain Republican votes when it is crunch time, as well as a few key Democrat votes because of his liberal style. Another key to Tauzin?s ability to obtain key votes is the passion and confidence he has for the legislation which he strives to pass.
? Billy is very good at explaining to members how a vote may relate to their future in the Congress? I do not know anybody who has a better sense of policy and politics. He is very good at figuring out what needs to be done and how to get it done. It is rare to have proficiency in both areas?. (Ota).
There are those who do not support Tauzin?s zealous deal making nature. Numerous critics have stated that Tauzin?s less than conservative ideologies may led to a loss of political control of power in the house and at the same time create liberal legislation that will have no hope ever passing when it reaches the House floor. But Congressman Tauzin is quick to reassure happenings as such, will not occur:
? We (Energy and Commerce Committee) need to develop packages of reform that Tom De Lay can easily pass on the floor. The worst thing that happens to Tom is when he gets a package he can?t even sell to the Republican team? (Ota).
Over the next two years of Tauzin?s term he, along with his committee, hopes to gernerate and accomplish legislation on the following tasks:
?Telecommunications: He wants to liberate the local Bell telephone companies from current restrictions, including on their ability to offer long-distance service and thereby be conduits of the Internet.
?Health care: He wants to have an important hand in the next version of legislation to protect the rights of patients in manage-care medical insurance plans.
?Consumer protection: He wants to push for a law to enhance the privacy of online shoppers.
?Energy: He wants to be the House?s principle figure now that the debate over federal fuel and electricity policies are climbing national agendas.
?Environment: He wants to rewrite the superfund statute (PL 96-510) to increase business? flexibility for dealing with hazardous waste and to limit their responsibility for the waste problems they inherit from others (Ota).
Among the topics not fully listed are the ever increasing gasoline and crude oil prices, as well as the energy crisis in California. During the last year and a half the price of crude oil and petroleum products have drastically increased from twelve dollars a barrel in February 2000 to, at some points during the last ten months, thirty-eight dollars a barrel. However, for those who faced the gas shortage in the late 1970?s and the early 1980?s, when gas was selling for a whopping seventy dollars a barrel, the mere twenty dollars a barrel it is today seems trifle. But the truth is, for a while we all grew used to 99-cent gasoline in the late part of the 20th Century.
According to the 106th House of Representatives? Energy and Commerce Congressional Committee, the price of crude oil increased due to the result from the shifting balance between supply (production) and demand. World inventories are reportedly at an all time low, leaving markets vulnerable to price spikes, such as which was experienced for heating oil and diesel fuel in the Northeast. And with most American families operating 2.3 large and mid-size cars, the levels have no choice but to decline (homepage).
The current dependence on crude oil and petroleum products today in the United States is still astonishing, in spite of the growth in use of other fuels like natural gas and coal. In 1998, petroleum supplied 39% of our energy needs. Since 1985, domestic crude oil production has been declining while oil product consumption has been increasing, resulting in a growing reliance on imports. However, this dependence is offset, to some extent, by an ongoing decline in petroleum’s role in the economy. Over the last 20 years, spending on petroleum has dropped from about 8 percent of all spending on U.S. goods and services to about 3 percent. Crude Oil Market and Recent Price Increases Crude prices have changed significantly over the past year. Prices have risen more than $20 per barrel (48 cents per gallon) from under $12 per barrel in mid February 2000 — the lowest prices in nominal terms since 1986 — to $34 per barrel recently (Harrison).
Thus we are currently facing an extremely tight crude oil/gasoline market. U.S. crude oil and gasoline inventories are at an all time low, yet refineries have to produce 1 million barrels a day during April and May to keep up with consumer consumption. The question then arises, what is Congress going to do about it?
Tauzin and his ?general? are desperately seeking an answer. A long-term solution to the problem may be for the U.S. to open up Alaska?s Artic National Wildlife refuge for the drilling of crude oil and gas. Although even if this was approved, it would take almost four years, or more, for it to be brought into practice and for the production of the oil to decrease costs. The Refuge was set-aside in 1960, after years of fighting with environmentalist and oil companies. Congress passes PL 96-487 in 1980, a law that put almost the entire Alaskan cost line that was rich with oil off limits. But there was a loophole which gave Congress the ability to decide the fate of the untouched costal plain at a later date (Almanac) (Appendix C)
So, the question now is?what about tomorrow? How can we control the price of gas in the immediate future, so we can then focus on the long-term solutions? At the present moment there are no sure answers. Some Democrats believe that by increasing taxes on gas and oil, the public will want to become more ?consumer savvy? and aware that the situation requires us to conserve our natural resources. However, as history shows us, this just might not be the best solution (and Tauzin agrees). For back in the late 1970?s Jimmy Carter attempted to regulate the amount of gas consumed, but Congress never passed the proposed bill. And today with the influx of the SUV?s, trucks, and luxury vehicles on the market, and the decrease of compact cars, it would be even more difficult for such a law to be passed. Yet, with a little (free and natural) brainpower and ingenuity the House?s Energy and Commerce Committee, along with its sister Senate committee should be able to generate a solution which is not only practical, but reliable as well.
More pressing than the lack of abundant crude oil is the lack of electrical power. The United States is home to the marvels of technology, but to keep up with all of the demands for energy, so we can use the latest and fastest version of Play Station, DVD player, etc., we must use more energy than we are able (physically and legally) to produce. For almost a year now, California has been plagued with continual black outs which seem to have grow in frequency and duration. These black outs are due to the always-increasing demand for electricity at all hours of the day and night. The power companies are not finically able to generate enough energy to meet the demands, while offering power at a reasonable price and following all of the safety regulations and emission standards (Filner).
So when House?s Energy and Commerce Committee goes to tackle this problem, they are faced with endless complications. On March 26, 2001 the committee met in an effort to draft up legislation which will help the citizens and power companies in California. After several hours of heated battle, and correspondence with White House staff, the committee came up with a list of proposals for all to contemplate:
?Increased funding for the expansion of Path 15, a 90-mile transmission line linking northern and southern California?s power grids.
?Emergency funding to help low-income residents pay their electric bill.
?A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) investigation into whether wholesale electricity prices in the West are unreasonable or discriminatory.
?Ordering federal agencies in the West to cut their electricity consumption by 10% over last year?s (Benton).
An option, which is not being considered, is that of limiting the amount of money the electric companies can sell their product for. Congress, and the Bush administration, refuse to set price cuts or caps to help the citizens of California with the finical burden of paying their sky rocketing electricity bills. Bush, Barton (chairman of the House?s Energy and Commerce Committee sub-committee of Energy and Air Quality), and Curt Herbert, chairman of the FERC, full heartily argue against price caps and will not support any legislation which contains them as a possibility (Benton).
Tauzin and his men are aware of the energy crises, so the question then arises: what are they going to do about it, and will it be a united front? So far this year the committee has only tried to pass on piece of legislation; and they all voted unanimously so the bill could be present to the Senate. One can only hope that the unity Tauzin has created thus far will extend through out his term, and that the committee will band together to see that the crucial legislation is passed. The committee at the present moment is made up mostly of young Congress/women, a large number of middle of the road Congressmen (Congress men who have been in Congress 4 to 8 years) and a few veteran members. The large amount of younger congressmen that are on the committee, enables Tauzin to teach them a set of norms which should be present on all committees, that of brotherly/sisterly bonding. Congressmen should work together to achieve the best for their country, for the best cannot be begotten if it is everyman for himself. Tauzin realizes this as truth, and is in a quest to revamp the ideologies which are currently present in Congress.
?Almanac.? Online. Internet. March 2001, http://www.impactsoft.com/almanac/almanac.html
Benton, James. ?GOP Opens Discussions On Measures to Allay California?s Power Crisis?, v. 59, #13. March 31, 2001.Congressional Quarterly, page 726.
Davison and Oleszeck. ?Congress and Its Members?, Congressional Quarterly Press, Washington, D.C. ? 2000, page 213.
Filner, Bob. ?Let’s Make the Energy Producers Give Refunds?, Roll Call Online, March 12, 2001, http://www.rollcall.com/pages/pb/00/2001/03/index0312.html
Harrison, Larry. ?Oil Crisis; today and yesterday?, Online. Internet. Jan. 15, 2001.
McCutcheon, Chuck. ?Democratic Bills Stress Energy Conservation; Bush Presses Case for Enhancing Production?, v. 59, #12. March 24, 2001.Congressional Quarterly, page 666-669.
Stearns, Clifford. Phone Interview, March 2001.
Ota, Alan. ?Chairman Tauzin Charts a Bold Course for Commerce?, v. 59, #5. February 3, 2001.Congressional Quarterly, pages 258-266.
?Energy and Commerce Committee Homepage.? Online. Internet. http://www.house.gov/commerce/, 2001.