Revo­lu­tion in the Rust Belt

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - georgewill@wash­post.com

Con­sen­sus is scarce but al­most ev­ery­one agrees with this: The govern­ment is dys­func­tional and the In­ter­net is splen­did. But last month, the Demo­cratic-con­trolled Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion, on a par­ti­san 3-2 vote, did what a fed­eral court says it has no power to do: It de­cided to reg­u­late the In­ter­net in the name of “net neu­tral­ity.” The next morn­ing, a man who can dis­ci­pline the FCC said: Well, we’ll just see about that. “We are go­ing to be a dog to the Fris­bee on this is­sue.”

Rep. Fred Up­ton, 57, who rep­re­sents south­west­ern Michi­gan, is now chair­man of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee. He notes that last sum­mer the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee got 95 Demo­cratic con­gres­sional can­di­dates to pledge sup­port for fed­eral reg­u­la­tion of the In­ter­net. In Novem­ber, all 95 lost. Up­ton will try to stymie the FCC’s im­per­ti­nence by us­ing the Con­gres­sional Re­view Act, un­der which a mea­sure to re­verse a reg­u­la­tion gets ex­pe­dited con­sid­er­a­tion and can­not be fil­i­bus­tered in the Se­nate.

The ca­pa­cious ju­ris­dic­tion of Up­ton’s com­mit­tee will al­low him, if he so de­sires, to is­sue the bib­li­cal com­mand “Let there be light” by push­ing re­peal of the 2007 law that, in 2014, ef­fec­tively bans sales of in­can­des­cent light bulbs. This law, which cre­ates a cap­tive mar­ket for those an­noy­ing, twisty, flick­er­ing flu­o­res­cent bulbs, is pro­tec­tion­ism dis­guised as en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism: It is cor­po­rate wel­fare for U.S. bulb mak­ers afraid of com­pe­ti­tion from im­ported in­can­des­cents.

But Up­ton has a big­ger re­peal in mind. He thinks enough Democrats will join all 242 House Repub­li­cans in vot­ing to re­peal Oba­macare, and that re­peal will come within 25 or so votes of the 290 nec­es­sary to over­ride a pres­i­den­tial veto. This will in­ten­sify pres­sure on other Demo­cratic mem­bers— imag­ine their town-hall meet­ings — who could pro­vide the veto-proof mar­gin.

Up­ton thinks op­po­si­tion to Oba­macare is in­ten­si­fy­ing as peo­ple re­al­ize the re­al­ity be­hind Barack Obama’s slip­pery prom­ise that if you like your present health care plan, you can keep it. The new law will not di­rectly take it away, but its re­quire­ment that busi­nesses ei­ther pro­vide ex­pen­sive govern­ment-ap­proved in­surance or pay a fine is de­signed to prompt busi­nesses to drop their in­surance, pay the fine and dump em­ploy­ees into Med­i­caid. Up­ton fa­vors dereg­u­lat­ing Med­i­caid by giv­ing gov­er­nors block grants and lat­i­tude: “Cut the strings and let the states fig­ure it out.”

He ma­jored in jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan and was a sports edi­tor of the stu­dent news­pa­per, think­ing he might even­tu­ally cover the Chicago Cubs. He avoided that mis­ery by com­ing to Washington in 1977 to work for the fresh­man con­gress­man from his district, David Stockman, who in 1981 took Up­ton with him to the White House when he be­came Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s bud­get di­rec­tor.

Up­ton was elected in 1986 and has be­gun his 13th term. His state has more than its share of prob­lems: The au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try is a shadow of its for­mer self, the un­em­ploy­ment rate is 12.4 per­cent, 68 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are on the state’s fis­cal watch list (38 are rated worse than Ham­tramck, which is seek­ing per­mis­sion to file for bank­ruptcy), the 2010 Cen­sus will cost the state a House seat, and, worst of all, Michi­gan has lost seven con­sec­u­tive foot­ball games to Ohio State.

Michi­gan’s power is wax­ing in­Wash­ing­ton, with Up­ton’s boon com­pan­ion Dave Camp, chair­man of the tax-writ­ing Ways and Means Com­mit­tee. They are part of a Mid­west­ern as­cen­dancy in the House, which also in­cludes Ohio’s John Boehner (speaker), Michi­gan’s Mike Rogers (chair­man of the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee), Wis­con­sin’s Paul Ryan (chair­man of bud­get), Min­nesota’s John Kline (chair­man of ed­u­ca­tion and the work­force), and Mis­souri’s Sam Graves (chair­man of small busi­ness).

The Mid­west has much to lose from Obama’s agenda, par­tic­u­larly his an­i­mus against coal, which gen­er­ates 60 per­cent of the re­gion’s elec­tric­ity — 90 per­cent in Ohio and In­di­ana. Of­fi­cials of a steel tank man­u­fac­turer in Niles, Mich., re­cently told Up­ton that cap-and-trade car­bon reg­u­la­tion would have meant an in­stant 20 per­cent in­crease in elec­tric­ity costs, which would have forced the com­pany to op­er­ate only at night in or­der to take ad­van­tage of off-peak rates.

Such mun­dane mat­ters may be in­tensely bor­ing to Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, to whom the pri­vate sec­tor is as for­eign as Mon­go­lia. But the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion prob­a­bly will be won in the Mid­west. Soon House Repub­li­cans from there will be­gin con­duct­ing a twoyear tu­to­rial on the rea­sons the re­gion should con­tinue to re­coil from this ad­min­is­tra­tion.

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