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House Committees Spar Over Steroids

As top sports officials prepare to make their latest appearance before Congress this week, the two House committees investigating steroids in sports are sparring with each other over jurisdiction.

While the Energy and Commerce Committee claims jurisdiction over sports and public health, the Government Reform Committee oversees the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the federal agency responsible for enforcing drug laws.

So with authority over steroids in sports not falling decisively to either panel, it has been up to their chairmen to jostle for primacy in the debate.

The turf war between the two committees comes to a head Thursday, when both panels hold hearings on the issue.

Kevin Schweers, a spokesman for the Energy and Commerce Committee, noted that his panel has jurisdiction over both public health and the sports industry.

“We understand others in Congress will have an interest in this issue, and that’s understandable,” Schweers said. “However, if there is to be legislation, it needs to come through this committee.”

A Congressional source close to the situation said that the conflict is “very simple. Energy and Commerce became disgruntled over the amount of media attention the [Government Reform] committee’s hearings were getting, and they reacted.”

The source added that Energy and Commerce is “late to the game, they know it, and they’re trying to catch up.”

Indeed, legislation sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) is already headed through the committee, and it will be the focus of hearings today and Thursday that draw reaction from commissioners and some sports union heads.

But Government Reform remains in the hunt with a bill of its own. Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) and ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) are working with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to craft it, and it could be introduced this week, said David Marin, a Davis spokesman.

He declined to discuss specifics of the bill but said it would have “more teeth” than the Stearns measure.

Davis’ committee was actually second into the fray this year. The Energy and Commerce subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection held a hearing March 10 to question some league and college officials and health experts on the scope of the problem.

Yet it was Government Reform’s hearing, one week later, that captured national media attention with its mega-watt appearances by such sluggers as Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco.

After a more subdued hearing in late April on football, Government Reform is poised to make waves again this week, with the Washington Wizards’ own Juan Dixon set to appear before the panel, according to a committee release Tuesday afternoon.

Dixon is the first of five players to accept an invitation to appear, and earlier Tuesday, the lack of confirmed NBA talent was rankling committee staffers.

“You have an awful lot of NBA players who made a lot of compelling statements about lack of steroid use in the NBA and the need to share that message with American youth, yet all indications are players can’t find time to share that message on a very public stage,” Marin said earlier Tuesday.

A spokesman for the player’s union did not return a call for comment.

Marin declined to name the other invited players but said that all had spoken out publicly about steroids — and none belonged to teams still in the playoffs.

The committee tussle is making life complicated for sports lobbyists.

One, speaking privately, said it is difficult to negotiate “when you don’t know who to negotiate with.”

“It’s kind of a muddy situation with no clear leader,” the lobbyist added. “Congress is clearly not speaking with one voice.”

So far, another sports lobbyist said, Davis has clearly bested Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) in the public-relations game.

Barton’s panel “got out-hustled, outsmarted, and outplayed by the Government Reform Committee,” said the lobbyist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“It’s not as if this was an accident,” the lobbyist said. “Barton didn’t come out swinging to protect his committee’s jurisdiction.”

This week’s Government Reform hearing comes as the panel’s staffers quietly reshape an effort they launched in April to organize a media blitz to educate American youth about the dangers of steroids.

The effort met with concern among sports officials and their lobbying representatives, mainly over issues of the cost, which was to be shouldered by the leagues and players unions.

Committee aides last week said they were scrapping the plan for a sports-funded ad campaign and instead would focus on sending Members, league officials, and players on a lower-key public education tour.

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