By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 6, 2008 10:44 AM
In the first sign of Democratic intraparty strife since the election, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) has told colleagues that he plans to challenge the House's most senior member, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Waxman, who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is the No. 2 ranking member of Energy and Commerce and one of the most liberal members of the House. In three decades as a lawmaker, Waxman, 69, has been a leading supporter of universal health care, tobacco regulation and environmental protections.
From his current post, he has conducted oversight investigations of issues including Iraqi reconstruction contracts, the use of steroids in Major League Baseball, and whether the Bush administration politicized government agencies' scientific reports.
Dingell is an institution within an institution. He has served as a member of the House since 1955 when, at age 29, he filled the seat left vacant when his father died. He also supports national health insurance and environmental measures, but he may be best known as a defender of the nation's ailing automobile industry.
Dingell's spokesman Jodi Seth said last night that Waxman told the chairman of his plan yesterday, but that Dingell "has been talking to colleagues and is receiving tremendous support."
If Waxman replaces Dingell, he will almost certainly augur in a change in substance as well as style at a critical time for the committee. Health-care legislation, which President-elect Barack Obama has said will be a priority, would go through the committee. In addition, Obama has promised to make energy policy a priority, and he has discussed pushing to promote renewable energy, funneling money into carbon capture and storage projects for coal plants, and drawing up cap-and-trade legislation that would aim to reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.
Waxman differs with Dingell on issues such as stricter tailpipe-emissions standards for automobiles and tighter controls on carbon emissions from fuels. He is also a vigorous foe of expanding offshore drilling to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Dingell, along with Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), has already drafted large portions of a cap-and-trade bill. In 2006, Waxman introduced his own proposal to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
Spokesmen for Waxman and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to comment.
Industry lobbyists were cautious in commenting on the prospect of a Waxman chairmanship. "It's the nature of the game," said Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. "Mr. Waxman comes at things a little bit differently than Mr. Dingell. We will put our recommendations to anyone who has the gavel."
House leadership sources said that Waxman has probably already canvassed fellow Democrats to make sure he has a good chance of wresting the chairmanship away from Dingell.
The next step is for the House Steering and Policy Committee to consider the matter and possibly recommend that the entire Democratic caucus vote on it.