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 in Washington, 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 two-year tutorial on the reasons the region should continue to recoil from this administration.