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For Upton, it's game on

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

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 expand coal-fired power plants.

He also attacked the Federal Communications Commission's plan for net neutrality, which FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says would protect equal access to the Web. 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 you know how many won reelection? Zero."

Upton quoted columnist George 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 said he would reconsider 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, Frank Maisano, 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.

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