A Thrilla in Vanilla: Final round of Dingell vs. Waxman this week

thrilla.jpgConsidered one of the most “brutal and bitter” bouts in the history of boxing politics, the epic struggle of the stinging bee and floating butterfly ends this week. E&E Daily expalins [OK, interesting Freudian typo, which I’m going to leave in — heck, it might become my preferred spelling]:

House Democrats will select their leader for the Energy and Commerce Committee this week following an intense two-week lobbying battle between two of the party’s most senior members, Reps. John Dingell of Michigan and Henry Waxman of California.

OK, maybe it’s not one of the greatest fights of all time:

Both Ali and Frazier fought to their absolute limit and maybe beyond. Joe’s eyes were still shut hours after the fight. Ali’s body showed conspicuous signs of the battle, with hematomas and bruises and swellings everywhere, as a result of “punches that would have knocked down a house” as Joe later put it. Ali is supposed to have told Angelo Dundee yet during the fight that this was “the closest to dying” he had ever been.

But either Dingell or Waxman is leaving with a losin’ bruisin’. Here is the rest of the story:

Dingell’s supporters insist their man will win the race, keeping him in position to play a significant role on global warming, energy, health care and a range of other legislative priorities for the incoming Obama administration.

“The votes that we’re counting, the conversations we’re having, it’s clear to us we’re locking things down,” Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), a member of Dingell’s whip team, told reporters Friday.

But Waxman, currently the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, counters that he remains in position to knock off Dingell. “Congressman Waxman is running to win and expects to win,” Waxman spokesman Karen Lightfoot said Friday. “He is making his case in calls and conversations with members, not through press releases.”

The House Steering and Policy Committee — which includes regional representatives, committee chairman and Democratic leaders — will first make its recommendation on who should chair the committee. Whoever loses the recommendation is almost guaranteed to seek a secret-ballot vote among the 255 members of the House Democratic Caucus that will be sworn in next year to the 111th Congress.

Democratic leaders have not announced the schedule for their meetings yet, but a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the voting could begin as early as Wednesday.

The top three House Democratic leaders — Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina — have tried to stay neutral in the dispute. But that has not been easy.

A House Democratic aide confirmed Saturday that Pelosi personally contacted one member of Dingell’s whip team last week to complain about a press release containing an outdated quote from her praising Dingell (E&ENews PM, Nov. 12).

Dingell’s backers last week denied media reports that Hoyer was trying to broker a deal that would keep Democrats from having to hold a vote. “There has been no such discussions,” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), a leader on Dingell’s whip team, said Friday. “John Dingell has run that committee like a machine. There’s no basis for removing John Dingell from his committee. So there is really nothing to negotiate with Mr. Waxman or any of his folks.”

And Dingell supporters have touted press reports suggesting they have Clyburn on board. But Clyburn’s spokeswoman, Kristie Greco, said in an e-mail Saturday that her boss is not taking sides. “Reports are inaccurate,” she said. “He has not endorsed anyone in the race.”

Dingell’s backers contend that they have a nearly six-to-one advantage over Waxman when it comes to public endorsements. They also argue that they have a more diverse level of support, including members of the Blue Dog coalition, Congressional Black Caucus, New Democratic coalition and Democratic committee leaders.

Several of Dingell’s supporters come from states and districts that Obama did not carry in the presidential election, such as South Dakota’s Sandlin, Utah’s Jim Matheson and Texas’ Gene Green. The top three members of the House Blue Dog coalition, Reps. Mike Ross of Arkansas, John Tanner of Tennessee and Allen Boyd of Florida, are also in Dingell’s corner. Committee chairmen backing Dingell include Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon of Tennessee.

Waxman is banking on votes from many of California’s House Democrats, though not all 33 have said that they will support him. Some of Waxman’s highest profile endorsements come from Education and Labor Chairman George Miller of California, who is one of Pelosi’s closest allies, as well as Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman of California, and Reps. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Zoe Lofgren of California.
Climate implications

Both Dingell and Waxman have pledged to emphasize global warming legislation next year if elected chairman. But the winner would likely leave different marks on such legislation.

Waxman is lead author of the Safe Climate Act, H.R. 1590, a bill with 155 cosponsors that seeks to curb U.S. heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The 69-year-old lawmaker also took the lead this fall on a “Dear Colleague” letter signed by 150 other House Democrats that calls for stringent environmental regulations to deal with global warming.

In his bid for the gavel, Waxman argues that he is better positioned to move Obama’s energy and environmental agenda. And he is counting on many of the lawmakers who cosponsored his climate bill and signed his letter to back his bid for the chairmanship.

Dingell, 82, is trying to appeal to the same group of House Democrats. Last Friday, he wrote to each of the Democrats on Waxman’s letter to highlight his own work on a 461-page draft cap-and-trade bill that he hopes to be the starting point for legislative action next year.

“I think you will find the discussion draft aligns with the principles and goals outlined in your letter,” Dingell wrote. “I have asked everyone for substantive feedback because when the new Congress convenes in January 2009, I intend to move quickly, especially now that our president-elect shares our commitment to solving this problem.”

Some of Waxman’s supporters argue that Dingell has slow-walked global warming legislation in recent years. But in a twist, Dingell’s team said Friday that an upheaval at the top of the Energy and Commerce Committee could hurt the prospects for passing a climate bill under Obama.

“We are ready to go with Chairman Dingell,” Doyle said. “A new chairmanship at this point would delay us from moving forward on these very important matters.”

OK, that ain’t, “It’s gonna be a chilla, and a killa, and a thriller, when I get the Gorilla in Manila.” But stilla….

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One Response to A Thrilla in Vanilla: Final round of Dingell vs. Waxman this week

  1. David B. Benson says:

    Boxing gloves? Queensbury rules? :-)