Barton wants Wilson off his panel

Furious that Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) voted with Democrats on a controversial bill, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) is pushing to get her removed from his powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

On Sept. 30, nearly five weeks before Election Day, Wilson was the only Republican committee member to vote for a motion that would have forced the Bush administration to release internal cost estimates of the Medicare prescription-drug law.
Furious that Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) voted with Democrats on a controversial bill, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) is pushing to get her removed from his powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

On Sept. 30, nearly five weeks before Election Day, Wilson was the only Republican committee member to vote for a motion that would have forced the Bush administration to release internal cost estimates of the Medicare prescription-drug law. Democrats repeatedly criticized the administration this year for not revealing its cost assumptions on the Medicare bill until after it was signed into law.
patrick g. ryan
Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) at odds with Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).

Barton called the Democratic resolution “a partisan effort to disparage [the new Medicare prescription drug law] and the administration.” The motion was defeated, 21-26.

Two days before the Democrats offered their Medicare bill, Barton’s political action committee contributed $3,454 to Wilson’s campaign, according to politicalmoneyline.com. While several other House Republicans gave to Wilson in October, Barton’s Sept. 28 contribution was his last to Wilson.

The House Steering Committee will finalize all committee decisions in January. As committee chairman, Barton will have a significant say in the makeup of his panel, but he will need to convince House Republican leaders to remove Wilson from the Energy and Commerce Committee.

A spokesperson for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Congressional Republicans contributed almost $330,000 to her campaign in the 2004 cycle, much of it coming from powerful House lawmakers.

A spokesperson for Wilson said, “Congresswoman Wilson has had an excellent relationship with Chairman Barton. She supported his bid to become chairman. But something happened the week before Thanksgiving that is a puzzle as to what is taking place.

“Congresswoman Wilson did vote for [the Medicare measure] on policy grounds that she does not agree that the extension of executive privilege should be expanded to advisers outside the White House or below Cabinet-level positions.”

On her website, Wilson notes that she serves on the “influential Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over issues important to [New Mexico’s] 1st District including energy, public health, telecommunications and hazardous materials.”

Wilson’s website adds, “Almost half of the legislation that comes to the House for a vote comes through the Energy and Commerce Committee.”

A spokeswoman for Barton said the congressman is out of the country on a congressional delegation and declined to comment.

Wilson, a former Air Force officer, was the first female veteran elected to Congress.

Republicans have represented her district for more than 20 years, but Democrats have a large registration advantage. Forty-seven percent of registered voters are Democrats, while 35 percent are Republicans.

Despite intense campaigning by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), Wilson defeated Democratic challenger Richard Romero by 10 percentage points on Election Day.

After defeating Romero, Wilson told the Albuquerque Journal that she wants to remain on the Energy and Commerce and Armed Services committees. She was quoted as saying that those assignments are good for New Mexico.

Wilson raised more than $3 million for her race against Romero, much of that coming from industry groups that fall under the jurisdiction of Energy and Commerce, including energy, healthcare and telecommunications associations.

A House GOP source said Barton is doing what he has to do, suggesting that the chairman needs to get rid of Wilson to send a message to the rest of his panel members that he expects them to be loyal.

Another aide to a Republican committee member on Energy and Commerce said, “It is illogical to attempt to remove a member from a committee over a vote taken on principle.”

Energy and Commerce shares jurisdiction over Medicare with the Ways and Means Committee. The shared oversight authority has led to many turf battles between the two panels.

A week before Energy and Commerce voted on the Democratic-sponsored measure, every Republican on Ways and Means voted against a similar motion brought by committee Democrats.

Barton recently informed his committee members that he would grant waivers to serve on other panels on a case-by-case basis. Because of a change in House rules, legislators who want to serve on an A-list committee and another panel must get permission from the chairmen of both committees and the Republican Steering Committee.

Sixteen GOP lawmakers on Energy and Commerce serve on other committees.

Wilson is seeking a waiver to remain on Armed Services and Energy and Commerce.

Wilson is not afraid to buck GOP leaders. She publicly criticized the change in House rules that would allow House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to remain in his post if he is indicted.

At the time, she said, “As a general matter, we shouldn’t craft the rules of the House because of individual situations.”

Wilson supported the Medicare drug bill, which was so controversial that House leaders needed to keep the roll call open for nearly three hours to secure enough votes for passage.

Since taking over the committee chairmanship from Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) earlier this year, Barton has made a concerted effort to protect his panel’s broad jurisdiction.

Aides and lobbyists say Barton has adopted an aggressive leadership style that has rankled some Republicans on his committee.

Barton is considering shakeups among his subcommittee chairmen and may take the gavel of the Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee, which Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.) headed before resigning from Congress. To take over the subcommittee, Barton would need a waiver from leadership because House rules prohibit a committee chairman from leading one of his subcommittees.