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Hastings Defends Grab for Energy Portfolio Against Critics

The top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee is facing a bipartisan backlash over his proposal to strip the Energy and Commerce Committee of a key part of its jurisdiction.

In fact, the bid by Natural Resources ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) to take over energy issues from the Energy and Commerce panel has united rivals from every corner of the House. Hastings is expected to become Natural Resources chairman in the next Congress.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longtime chairman whom Waxman pushed out, said they oppose Hastings’ effort.

Dingell phrased his objection simply. “It’s a stupid idea,” he said. “It if ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sounds like we just need something to do, or maybe he has some other less decent motive.”

Waxman said no Democrat would support the jurisdictional change. “I think it’s very unfair to take away jurisdiction from a committee that Members have served on for years, have developed an expertise in both from the Democratic and Republican side,” he said. “I don’t see any logic to it. It looks like a power grab.”

Further, Waxman said that if Republicans look to take away jurisdiction from his panel, they ought to look at others as well. “There are other committees you could look at to break up as well,” he said. “The Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over international trade and tax issues and Medicare and social work. So if you want to [review jurisdiction], it ought to be done in a more thoughtful way than just against one committee.”

Waxman said he has reached out to Energy and Commerce Republicans and all of the candidates for chairman “seem to be very strongly united in opposition.”

Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), the top Republican on the energy panel, and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) paused from their savage race for the chairman’s gavel to join other committee Members in signing a letter blasting Hastings’ proposal as “irresponsible.”

“With respect, the worst possible way to answer the American people’s cry for transparency and responsibility would be to cut an inside-Washington deal that ferrets jurisdiction away from committees that have proven their moxie and sends it to committees that haven’t experienced a true partisan fight in the past two years,” reads the letter to Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader-designate Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Some Republicans have accused Hastings of taking advantage of the energy panel’s internal leadership turmoil — a charge Hastings fought Thursday. “There’s precedent for it. That’s the bottom line,” he said, pointing to the elimination of two panels after Republicans took the House in 1994.

“When you have a transition, it happens,” he said, referring to changes in committee jurisdiction. “It certainly happened when I got elected in 1994. Those things happened.”

Boehner told reporters at a news conference Thursday that the debate is healthy. “I think that it is appropriate for a new majority to look at how we can best do our work on behalf of the American people,” he said. “I don’t have a position on this, but I do think that the conversation that is under way that involves virtually half of our committees is a dialogue that we should have.”

Hastings told reporters Thursday that he had spoken to Boehner and other leaders about the merits of shifting the energy portfolio to his jurisdiction, saying Members on the Energy and Commerce Committee “have a lot on their plate with health care and some other things.”

“I’m going to work as hard as I can, and I hope we’ll be successful” in shifting energy responsibilities, he said.

Proposals for changing committee jurisdictions must be accepted by the Republican Steering Committee and ratified by the House Republican Conference when it meets to decide its rules in the coming weeks.

“I’ve had conversations with the leaders, [but] at the end of the day, the Conference will be the ones that make this decision because they have to ratify that,” Hastings said. “But listen, right now I’m just simply in a mode of trying to make my case as best I can.”

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