There are still 12 months to go in the 114th Congress, but some House Republicans are already looking ahead to next year when the coveted gavel of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee comes up for grabs.
Already two members of the panel have confirmed their interest in pursuing the seat next year, when current Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) faces GOP term limits that prevent members from serving as chairman or ranking member for three consecutive Congresses.
Both lawmakers — Reps. John Shimkus of Illinois and Joe Barton of Texas — are long-standing members of the Energy and Commerce Committee who have vied for the gavel in the past. Both members challenged Upton to lead the committee in 2010, after Republicans regained control of the House that November.
However, the Steering Committee ultimately chose Upton as chairman, a decision later ratified by the full GOP Conference (Greenwire, Dec. 2, 2010). An Upton spokesman declined to comment on whether he would pursue a waiver of the rules next year to continue on as chairman.
Shimkus, who leads the panel’s Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, said during a recent interview that he has been eyeing the gavel since throwing his hat into the ring five years ago.
Serving on various subcommittees and taking the lead on different energy and health care issues, Shimkus said, have only broadened his platform and made him more "seasoned."
"I’m definitely interested, I ran against Fred five years ago," Shimkus said. "So, I told people I was interested then, I’m even more interested now."
Shimkus, who is well-known for pushing to advance the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, said his experience goes far beyond stumping for the Nevada project.
"The strength I bring to the race is a diverse public policy platform," he said.
The congressman touted his "all of the above" focus on coal, nuclear power, renewables, and supporting marginal oil and gas exploration, as well as advancing national safety provisions, renewing critical drug user fee laws and streamlining food safety regulations. "I have a large portfolio of policies across the board," he said.
Additionally, Shimkus last year shepherded an overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act through the House on an almost unanimous vote, as well as legislation governing the disposal of coal ash (E&E Daily, June 25, 2015).
Shimkus said it’s bound to be an exciting time to lead the committee, given that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is calling for a "bold agenda" to move forward on transformational issues.
But other members are also eyeing the position, with Upton term-limited and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who leads the panel’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power and is the most senior Republican on the panel who hasn’t already served as chairman or ranking member, retiring at year’s end.
Barton said during a recent interview that after more than three decades in the chamber, he’d like to return to the chairman’s seat, which he occupied for a term during the 109th Congress. He also served two terms as ranking member after Democrats regained control of the House for the 110th Congress. After his unsuccessful bid to get a term limit waiver and stay atop Energy and Commerce in 2010, Barton was named the panel’s chairman emeritus.
"I’m eligible, I’d like to do it, I’m not going to lie about that," Barton said. "We’ve got some other good members on the committee that want to do it, too. It’s up to the Steering Committee, we’ll just have to see."
While House GOP rules limit members to three consecutive terms as committee chairman or ranking member, Barton said he’s in the clear to pursue the gavel again.
"So that reset the clock now for three terms, there’s not a conference rule that prevents me," Barton said last month.
"The real question is more where the Congress is now, the number of members and things like that, but there’s not a rule prohibiting me from doing that."
In addition to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 — passed and signed by President George W. Bush on Barton’s watch as Energy chairman — the Texas lawmaker notched a major victory last month when President Obama signed the omnibus and tax package that ended the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports.
Barton played a lead role in building support for repealing the ban in the House, an effort that he said was aided by his decades of experience (E&E Daily, Dec. 17, 2015).
"It didn’t hurt frankly that I’ve been around awhile, and I like to work hard, and I believe that we ought to do things on a bipartisan, bicameral basis," Barton said.