Conservatives Say Naming Upton As Chairman of Energy and Commerce Committee Would Be ‘Slap in the Face’

By Pete Winn | November 30, 2010 | 6:06 AM EST

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) seeks the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee

( – Conservatives say it would be an insult if House Republicans allow Rep. Fred Upton, a liberal Republican from Michigan, to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee when the GOP takes control of the lower chamber in January.

“It would be a real slap in the face for him to be selected the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee,” Richard Viguerie, president of the Manassas, Va.-based group Conservative HQ, told “He comes from the ruling class of the Republican Establishment wing of the Republican Party.”

Upton will get a chance on Tuesday to make his case for the job when he appears before members of the House Republican Conference steering committee. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the current ranking Republican on the committee, also wants to be chairman.

Tom McClusky, vice president of government relations at the Family Research Council, said Upton’s pro-abortion record is “a big problem” for conservatives.

“He hasn’t exactly been the most pro-life,” McClusky told “In the past, he’s been bad on stem cells; he has a mixed record when it comes to a number of life votes. If you look at his record on the life issue, he’s grown in office, but still you’d be hard-pressed to say that he’s pro-life.

Upton repeatedly has voted in support of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, according to an FRC Action voting record compiled before the election.

Upton also repeatedly has voted to fund organizations that sponsor abortion in other countries, including International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Population Fund.

Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, said Upton has a 24-year history of “support for taxpayer funded abortion at home and abroad,” which she said “refutes current claims that he does support life.”

Yoest added: “His record of opposition to a pro-life agenda is clear: he has voted against such common-sense policy as parents being notified if their minor child seeks an abortion at a federally funded facility and in favor of obstructing the partial-birth abortion bill.”

Jenn Giroux of HLI America – a division of Human Life International – said Upton has been one of the staunchest supporters of Planned Parenthood.

“We would be concerned about the fact that more and more studies are out now showing that oral contraceptives – the Pill – is a chemical that is causing breast cancer in young women – and Planned Parenthood dispenses the pill freely to young girls without their parents knowing it,” Giroux said. “That is another aspect that he has no problem with whatsoever.”

The chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee is a powerful and influential position, Giroux told

“To put him in a position where he can infuse his political beliefs and also loyalties to an organization that he continues to fund with our tax dollars, is very concerning because so much of what he’s going to be doing is overseeing decisions that affect public safety and the health of women,” Giroux said.

Conservatives say Upton is also problematic on environmental and energy issues.

-- A well-known environmentalist, Upton co-authored the 2007 ban on incandescent light bulbs and joined with Democrats in 2007 to pass an omnibus energy bill that contained vast new regulations on energy companies, banned drilling in several locations and created new government energy programs.

-- Upton supported a bill that took 1.2 million acres in Wyoming off the registry for mineral leasing and energy exploration -- withdrawing 331 million barrels of recoverable oil and 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from domestic energy supply, according to an FRC Action document prepared in advance of the election.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the committee's current ranking Republican, would be a better choice for conservatives, according to FRC’s McClusky, but the conservative Barton is term-limited out of the committee. Barton is expected to make his case Tuesday before the steering committee for receiving a waiver to assume the chairmanship instead of Upton.

“I’d be very surprised if they gave him a waiver,” McClusky said. “Unfortunately, Congressman (John) Shimkus (R-Ill.), who would also be preferable – it doesn’t seem like he will be in line to be chairman, either.”

Upton, who first started in Washington during the Reagan administration at the Office of Management and Budget as a protégé of David Stockman, is fighting back against conservatives.

Two weeks ago, when he announced he planned to seek the post, Upton sent a carefully crafted letter to incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the House Republican Conference. In it, Upton promised to repeal the Obamacare law and to conduct himself in a more conservative way.

“(Speaker Nancy) Pelosi (D-Calif.) never listened to the American people and she never lived up to her promises,” Upton wrote. “We will do both. We have a clear mandate to cut the size of government, reduce spending and reverse costly job-killing regulations. The change will be evident from day one at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where as a result of Republican reforms that instituted term limits, there is a vacancy.”

Upton also promised to hold White House energy czar Carol Browner accountable for the Obama administration's drilling moratorium, which Upton said was imposed “despite the fact that thousands of American jobs would be lost, the offshore oil and gas industry would suffer, and that it would have negative ramifications.”

For conservatives like Richard Viguerie, however, a pledge to be more conservative in the future is not enough.

“I think that his time to show that has come and gone,” Viguerie told “I don’t believe, long term, you change your DNA. You can be on your best behavior for a short period of time, but the conservative base, including the Tea Party people have given the Republicans control of the House of Representatives and we’re expecting some real changes and Republicans are on probation.

“We don’t want any kind of window dressing – we don’t want to be patronized by someone saying they are going to change their behavior. We don’t trust them.”

McClusky, meanwhile, said House Republicans could – at the very least -- strengthen the conservatives on the committee by making Rep, Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) the chairman of the Health subcommittee – and adding newly elected pro-life conservatives to the committee.

“What the leadership does in the weeks leading up to the 112th Congress will be extremely important – will somebody like Joe Pitts be chairman of the Health Committee? Will people like (Rep.-elect) Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and (Rep-elect ) Andy Harris, from Maryland, new pro-life, pro-family members – will they be on the committee?”

Members of the House Republican steering committee will decide the chairmanship sometime next week, according to incoming Speaker Boehner.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has jurisdiction over a wide variety of areas, including national energy policy; health and health facilities (except health-care supported by payroll deductions); interstate and foreign commerce; consumer affairs and consumer protection; “exploration, production, storage, supply, marketing, pricing, and regulation of energy resources, including all fossil fuels, solar energy, and other unconventional or renewable energy resources”; the Department of Energy; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; biomedical research and development; public health and quarantine; the domestic nuclear energy industry; and regulation of interstate and foreign communications and travel and tourism.