For Up­ton, it’s game on

Busi­ness and Obama of­fi­cials come call­ing as Michi­gan Repub­li­can as­sumes En­ergy and Com­merce post

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY STEVENMUFSON

Rep. Fred Up­ton (R-Mich.) set a col­or­ful cylin­dri­cal box on his of­fice cof­fee ta­ble.

In the box was a game, Jenga, in which play­ers re­move wooden blocks one by one from a tower and place them on top. The struc­ture grows taller and less sta­ble— un­til it col­lapses.

Up­ton is go­ing to play Jenga with Obama’s health-care law.

“It’s like this game,” he said. “We’re go­ing to pull out the pieces.”

As the new chair­man of the En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, Up­ton will have his hands on myr­iad pieces of busi­ness-fo­cused and po­lit­i­cally loaded leg­is­la­tion, in­volv­ing not only health care but also en­ergy and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions.

A 24-year vet­eran of the House, the af­fa­ble Up­ton has of­ten worked with Democrats — too of­ten, ac­cord­ing to con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans who ve­he­mently op­posed his el­e­va­tion to the chair­man­ship.

But his cur­rent views on busi­ness is­sues place him solidly in line with the agenda of House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) and the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship. He wants to undo “Oba­macare,” rein in the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and halt the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to guar­an­tee “net neu­tral­ity,” which would pro­hibit telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion giants from giv­ing pref­er­en­tial treat­ment to cer­tain Web traf­fic.

On Thurs­day — Day One of his ten­ure as chair­man — he urged the Rules Com­mit­tee to quickly bring to the House floor a mea­sure ti­tled “Re­peal­ing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.”

“We must re­peal this job-killing health law that raids the pock­et­books of work­ing Amer­i­cans,” he said, “and sends their hard-earned tax dol­lars to Washington to cre­ate jobs for bu­reau­crats who de­cide what health care the pub­lic can have.”

In­his of­fice later that­day, he con­ceded that al­though the mea­sure to scrap the en­tire health-care law would pass the House, it would ul­ti­mately fail. That’s where Jenga comes in. He plans to bring in­di­vid­ual pieces of the law to votes, hop­ing to garner enough Demo­cratic sup­port to re­peal each item and un­der­cut the whole pack­age.

“We’ll see how that falls, or plays,”

Up­ton said.

Busi­nesses and trade as­so­ci­a­tions have co­zied up toUp­ton. Even when his vic­tory was as­sured in the fi­nal days be­fore the midterm elec­tion, the do­na­tions to his cam­paign poured in.

Four days be­fore the vote, his cam­paign re­ceived $5,000 from Valero, the nation’s largest oil re­finer; $3,000 each from the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Plas­tic Sur­geons and theMedtron­icMed­i­cal Technology Fund; $2,500 each from the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion ofNeu­ro­log­i­cal Sur­geons, power generator Calpine and the en­ergy util­ity Ex­elon; and $2,000 from Mi­crosoft. Other groups — such as the Amer­i­can Wind En­er­gyAs­so­ci­a­tion— sent­money­onElec­tion Day.

Up­ton also meets with ex­ec­u­tives. For in­stance, when he saw AT&T chief ex­ec­u­tive Randall L. Stephen­son, he asked about pa­per­work bur­dens cre­ated by the health-care law.

“I met with the pres­i­dent of Toshiba,” said Up­ton, a nu­clear power en­thu­si­ast, “and in Ja­pan orFrance, it takes four to six years to build a nu­clear plant. Why does it take us 10 to 12 years?” He added, “I don’t know, but we sure are go­ing to find out.”

Busi­ness groups are up­beat. “I think our in­ter­ests and his and the Repub­li­can con­fer­ence’s align, es­pe­cially on EPA stuff,” said an oil in­dus­try lob­by­ist who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

Repub­li­can strong­hold

Up­ton, 57, comes from south­west­Michi­gan, so close to Chicago that he roots for the Cubs and Bears. This year, be­cause of the con­gres­sional sched­ule, he ex­pects to miss Open­ing Day atWrigley Field for the first time in 20 years. Mounted on his of­fice wall, he has a base­ball bat used by Sammy Sosa — one with­out any cork in­side, Up­ton notes.

His grand­fa­ther co-founded Whirlpool (then known as Up­ton Ma­chine Co.), and Up­ton is wealth­ier than most mem­bers of Congress, with at least $8 mil­lion in as­sets, ac­cord­ing to a 2009 dis­clo­sure state­ment.

The district was long a Repub­li­can strong­hold, from the found­ing of the party in the 19th cen­tury, and its con­gress­men have in­cluded New Deal foe Clare Hoff­man and Nixon de­fender Ed­ward Hutchi­son. Its­main­towns are Kala­ma­zoo and Benton Har­bor-St. Joseph, which is still home to Whirlpool.

In the 1970s, Up­ton vol­un­teered to work for the con­gres­sional cam­paign of David Stockman, a critic of pork-bar­rel spend­ing who later be­came Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan’s bud­get di­rec­tor. When Stockman won the Michi­gan seat, he brought Up­ton, a Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan grad­u­ate­who­had never been toWash­ing­ton, along as a leg­isla­tive aide. When Stockman went to the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, Up­ton fol­lowed and worked in the leg­isla­tive af­fairs of­fice.

Ken­neth Du­ber­stein, a for­mer Rea­gan chief of staff whose son works for Up­ton, called him “earnest, Mid­west-straight, in­de­fati­ga­ble” and said Up­ton “ liked deal­ing with sub­stance.”

In 1986, Up­ton ran for Congress him­self, op­pos­ing the Repub­li­can in­cum­bent, Mark D. Sil­jan­der, who had been elected with the help of the Moral Ma­jor­ity and who asked vot­ers to sup­port him in the pri­mary in or­der to “ break the back of Satan.” Up­ton won.

Since then, he has built a vot­ing record that shows streaks of in­de­pen­dence.

KathrynLehman, alawyer­atHol­land& Knight who worked as pol­icy di­rec­tor for then-GOP whip Tom De­Lay (Tex.), said Up­ton al­ways “took some talk­ing to. You had to have a con­ver­sa­tion with him. . . . You couldn’t take him for granted.”

Up­ton said that “as a for­mer staffer, I want to know what leg­is­la­tion does.”

In 2001, he op­posed a pro­hi­bi­tion on U.S. funds go­ing to for­eign fam­ily plan­ning­group­sthat­provide­abor­tions and, in 2007, he was one of only 37House Repub­li­cans who backed a bill pro­mot­ing stem cell re­search. Still, NARAL la­bels him anti-choice, and he voted for the amend­ment bar­ring in­surance ex­changes from cov­er­ing abor­tions.

“Fred is philo­soph­i­cally con­ser­va­tive, but he has never been a so­cial-is­sue con­ser­va­tive,” said DavidHoppe, pres­i­dent of Quinn Gille­spie and chief of staff to thenSe­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Trent Lott (RMiss.).

He has sup­ported the En­dan­gered Species Act and op­posed oil drilling in the Great Lakes and off the Florida coast. He was one of the founders of the mod­er­ate Tues­day Group, al­though GOP mod­er­ates found him an un­re­li­able ally.

“I would like him to be a lit­tle more green,” said Sherry Boehlert, a for­mer NewYork con­gress­man.

Up­ton has also bucked the party on eco­nomic is­sues by twice sup­port­ing the Trou­bled As­sets Re­lief Pro­gram. In 2009, he was one of 40 GOP House mem­bers to sup­port in­creased spend­ing on the Chil­dren’sHealth In­surancePro­gram. In2007, he backed a min­i­mum-wage in­crease.

Onthe En­er­gyandCom­merceCom­mit­tee, he was one of 30 Repub­li­cans in 2008 to back a mea­sure that cre­ated tax cred­its for re­new­able en­ergy. And in 2007, he co-au­thored a mea­sure with Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) to set light­ing stan­dards that will ef­fec­tively out­law the in­can­des­cent bulb in­vented by Thomas Edi­son.

‘Down with Up­ton’

With that vot­ing record, Up­ton wasn’t ev­ery­one’s first choice to lead the En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee in the new Repub­li­canHouse.

Tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor Glenn Beck, who de­scribed Up­ton as “all so­cial­ist,” said, “ This is ex­actly the kind of guy that the Repub­li­cans need to avoid, or they’ll de­stroy them­selves.” For­mer GOP House ma­jor­ity leader Dick Armey’s group, Free­domWorks, has waged a cam­paign called “Down with­Up­ton.”

Con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh said an Up­ton chair­man­ship “would be a tone-deaf dis­as­ter.” Cit­ing the light bulb stan­dards, he saidUp­ton rep­re­sented “ex­actly the kind of nan­ny­ism, statism, what have you, that was voted against and was de­feated” in the midterm elec­tions.

Up­ton also came un­der at­tack from Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), a com­mit­tee mem­ber who sought a sec­ond stint as chair­man and waged a nasty cam­paign again­stUp­ton.

Up­ton, who in­sists on be­ing called Fred, pre­vailed. OnThurs­day, Barton paid a visit to Up­ton’s of­fice. Asked after­ward whether Barton calls him Fred, Up­ton said, “We’re back to that.”

Up­ton sur­vived the on­slaught in part by run­ning to the right, in tones un­usu­ally stri­dent for a law­maker widely de­scribed as “nice.” In re­cent weeks, his of­fice has is­sued a steady stream of broad­sides against Obama poli­cies.

In De­cem­ber, he co-au­thored an ar­ti­cle in the Wall Street Jour­nal with Tim Phillips, pres­i­dent of Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity, a group founded by ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive tea party sup­porter and oil ty­coon David Koch. Al­though the Supreme Court in April 2007 ruled that the EPA had the author­ity to reg­u­late car­bon diox­ide emis­sions un­der the Clean Air Act, Up­ton and Phillips called the agency’s steps “an un­con­sti­tu­tional power grab.” The po­si­tion ap­peals to big oil re­fin­ers and util­i­ties seek­ing to ex­pand­coal-fired­pow­er­plants.

He also at­tacked theFed­er­alCom­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion’s plan for net neu­tral­ity, which FCC Chair­man Julius Ge­na­chowski says would pro­tect equal ac­cess to theWeb. It would place re­stric­tions on In­ter­net ser­vice providers: cable com­pa­nies such as Com­cast and phone com­pa­nies such as Ver­i­zon and AT&T.

Up­ton said Congress must “use ev­ery re­source avail­able . . . to strike down the FCC’s brazen ef­fort to reg­u­late the In­ter­net.”

“Net neu­tral­ity is go­ing to our num­ber one is­sue,” he said last week. He said that Democrats who sup­ported net neu­tral­ity paid for it in the Novem­ber elec­tion. “Ninety five Democrats ran in sup­port of net neu­tral­ity,” he said. “Do youknowhow many won re­elec­tion? Zero.”

Up­ton quoted colum­nistGe­orge Will as say­ing “ that Amer­i­cans be­lieve govern­ment doesn’t work and that the In­ter­net does.”

Up­ton also held forth on Obama’s health-care poli­cies. “ The ad­min­is­tra­tion re­ally blew it,” he said, as he lifted a print­out of the vo­lu­mi­nous law. Af­ter mov­ing a vis­i­tor’s cup of cof­fee out of the way, he dropped it with a bang on the cof­fee ta­ble.

“When the pres­i­dent said if you like your health-care plan you can keep it, he was just flat-out wrong,” Up­ton said. “Look at page 737. I read it.”

Up­ton has even said­he­woul­drecon­sider the light bulb reg­u­la­tions, which Barton has pro­posed re­vers­ing. “We’ll re­ex­am­ine it. That’s not a prob­lem,” he said, though he cited sav­ings of $16 bil­lion a year in en­ergy costs.

About Up­ton’s re­cent spate of attacks on the ad­min­is­tra­tion, FrankMaisano, an en­ergy lob­by­ist at Bracewell & Gi­u­liani, said, “Don’t mis­take thought­ful­ness for not be­ing ag­gres­sive.”

But a GOP health-care ex­pert sees Up­ton’s re­cent tone as strate­gic pos­tur­ing. “For many years, Fred was a mod­er­ate on health care and al­ways pretty con­struc­tive,” said the ex­pert, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity. “Now he is 100 per­cent for re­peal, as all Repub­li­cans are. If he wasn’t for re­peal, he wouldn’t be chair­man of the com­mit­tee.”

A new courtship

The chang­ing of the guard in­volves more than the com­mit­tee chair­man­ship. Up­ton has re­or­ga­nized the com­mit­tee, di­vid­ing en­ergy and en­vi­ron­ment into two sub­com­mit­tees. Hoppe said that di­vi­sion will help Repub­li­cans push for the ex­pan­sion of do­mes­tic en­ergy while keep­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues sep­a­rate.

Up­ton has hired Gary An­dres, a vet­eran GOP­op­er­a­tive­an­do­neof theHill­news­pa­per’s two “ lob­by­ists of the year” in 2007. He has rep­re­sented phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, hos­pi­tals, Sprint Nex­tel and other firms. Up­ton said, though, that he still plans to reach out to Democrats. And­with a Demo­cratic Se­nate and a Demo­crat in the White House, co­op­er­a­tion might be the only way he gets any­thing done.

“I’ve long had the rep­u­ta­tion of reach­ing out to the other side to find com­mon ground to get things done,” Up­ton said. “I didn’t come to Congress to work on things that would never hap­pen.”

He cited an al­liance forged with thenRep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) to amend the 1990 Amer­i­cans With Dis­abil­i­ties Act, to pro­vide a tax credit for small busi­nesses strug­gling to com­ply.

Up­ton may also be com­pelled to co­op­er­ate be­cause of the chang­ing na­ture of his district, which is no longer the bas­tion of con­ser­vatism it once was. It voted twice for Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, twice for the out­go­ing Demo­cratic Gov. Jen­nifer Gran­holm, and for Obama two years ago.

“Be­ing from the north­east or Mid­west is dif­fer­ent from be­ing from Sugar Land, Texas,” Up­ton said, re­fer­ring to De­Lay.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion isn’t wait­ing for Up­ton to reach out. It’s reach­ing out to him.

On Wed­nes­day, EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Lisa P. Jack­son called. Up­ton and Ge­nakowski have traded phone mes­sages. En­ergy Sec­re­tary Steven Chu stopped by for a long con­ver­sa­tion. White House en­ergy and en­vi­ron­ment czar Carol Browner, Com­merce Sec­re­tary Gary Locke and Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Kath­leen Se­be­lius have all phoned.

This isn’t the first time theOba­mateam has courted Up­ton. Two years ago, it wooed Up­ton, try­ing to peel him away from other Repub­li­cans. Up­ton at­tended the White House Su­per Bowl party in 2009 with his 17-year-old son, Stephen, and trav­eled with Obama on Air Force One to Elkhart, Ind. But then he didn’t sup­port the stim­u­lus any­way.

Now, in­stead of em­brac­ing him in the hope of win­ning his sup­port its agenda, the Obama team is es­sen­tially beg­ging him not to tear its agenda apart.

Rep. Ed­ward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said he and Up­ton had co­op­er­ated in the past on leg­is­la­tion about on­line pri­vacy for chil­dren, med­i­cal iso­topes and the se­cu­rity of the elec­tric­ity grid. He said he hopes they can still pur­sue ways to pro­mote use of elec­tric ve­hi­cles and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency.

But some gaps may be too great. “I do not­sup­port any leg­isla­tive roll­back ofEPA author­ity,” Markey said. “I think that’s the big one.”

Markey added, “He is a Repub­li­can and proud to be so.”

As the vet­eran GOP health-care ex­pert put it: “Is he a bomb-throw­ing con­ser­va­tive? No, thank God. But he’s a very loyal team guy.”

‘I got to go’

Up­ton is also unas­sum­ing. “If he is not the nicest mem­ber of Congress, he’s in the top five,” one lob­by­ist said. His of­fice has pho­tos of Stockman and Rea­gan, sign­ing cer­e­monies with Bush, his son the lacrosse stand­out at Wil­liams Col­lege, and his dog Juno, who died two years ago. There’s a Wolverine hel­met, too, an­daKel­logg’sFrosted Flakes box with a photo of him next to the words “ They’re Gr­rreat!”

Lehman said she mis­took the boy­ishlook­ing Up­ton for a staffer when she first met him in 1990. “A bell rang for a vote. And this guy with a rum­pled khaki suit wholooks likehe might be30says, ‘I got to go.’ And I won­dered, who did this guy think he is?”

He is given to quirky phrases. Pledg­ing to stay on top of an is­sue, he once said he would be “ like a dog on a Fris­bee.”

He said he goes home nearly ev­ery week­end. He said he reads and per­son­ally signs all his leg­isla­tive mail. “I have signed ‘Fred’ more than a mil­lion times,” he boasted.

But nice won’t mat­ter to the com­pa­nies with bil­lions of dol­lars at stake on com­mit­tee votes or to the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship seek­ing to make its mark, or to the Obama White House search­ing for com­mon ground.

“Fred has al­ways had de­signs on hav­ing more re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Boehlert said. “Now the ques­tion is how will he han­dle those re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.”

MELINA MARA/THE WASHINGTON POST

Rep. Fred Up­ton (R-Mich.), sec­ond from left, wields con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence as the new chair­man of theHouse En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee.

MELINA MARA/THE WASHINGTON POST

Rep. Fred Up­ton, in his of­fice on Capi­tolHill, has a vot­ing record that de­fies easy clas­si­fi­ca­tion. He is deemed nei­ther re­li­ably mod­er­ate nor stead­fastly con­ser­va­tive.

“I’ve long had the rep­u­ta­tion of reach­ing out to the other side to find com­mon ground to get things done,” Up­ton said.

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