Barton offers to form homeland security panel

Even though Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) opposes a permanent homeland-security committee, he would favor such a subcommittee under the purview of his energy and commerce panel.

Some Capitol Hill officials say Barton’s offer is a clear attempt to expand his committee’s already vast jurisdiction, but some committee officials maintain that such a move makes sense.

Barton told The Hill recently that he has offered to create a homeland-security subcommittee within his panel if a permanent panel is not created.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, said the panel already has jurisdiction over aspects of the Internet, adding that the Web is used as a communications tool among terrorist groups.

Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Select Committee on Homeland Security and sits on Energy and Commerce, is lobbying for the homeland-security panel to be made permanent.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) wants the panel to be extended, despite the opposition raised by House GOP committee chairmen who serve under Cox as members of the homeland-security panel. If Cox’s committee is extended beyond this
year, other committee chairmen would cede some jurisdiction.

Unlike his predecessor as Speaker, former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Hastert has allocated much of the House’s power to his committee chairmen. While that approach has yielded more unity within the Republican caucus, there have been occasions when committee chairmen have refused to move legislation that Hastert favored.

The decision to extend Cox’s panel will be viewed as a barometer of whether Hastert’s will trumps those of his committee chairmen.