CHESSER: All lights on Upton

Chair-apparent doesn’t understand freedom

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As four Republican congressmen - including ranking member but term-limited Rep. Joe Barton of Texas - maneuvered to position themselves to win the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, at least three of the contenders showed they don’t understand what it means to get government out of our lives.

The Washington Times reported this week that Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, who seniority-wise, is next in line to assume leadership of the powerful committee, has repented from his co-sponsorship of a bill that eventually bans the incandescent light bulb. His staff waged a furious publicity rally (apparently successful, according to news reports) in Op-Eds and media coverage that portray him in support of drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge; opposing government subsidies for alternative energy; and pushing for an investigation of the Department of Interior over its delays in issuing oil-drilling permits.

About the light bulb ban, Mr. Upton said, “We have heard the grassroots loud and clear, and will have a hearing early next Congress. The last thing we wanted to do was infringe upon personal liberties - and this has been a good lesson that Congress does not always know best.”

A promise to hear testimony is hardly a strong signal that Mr. Upton intends to pursue a repeal of the ban. Even more telling is that there was nothing in his personal constitution - much less in the U.S. Constitution - that told him a light bulb ban curbed basic freedoms. He needed a lesson for this?

Then there is Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida, another candidate for the Energy and Commerce chairmanship, who also doesn’t seem to quite get it.

“While we must continue to work to improve energy efficiency and reduce our energy consumption, the misguided ban on incandescent light bulbs needs to be repealed,” he said.

It sounds like Mr. Stearns also attended the school of government control over market forces, because there’s nothing in our nation’s founding documents that speaks to how citizens use energy - whether horse power and whale oil in centuries past - or with today’s fossil fuels. Simply, the free market better determines how much and what kind of energy we use, not government.

And finally, The Washington Times interviewed Steve Tomaszewski, spokesman for a third aspirant to the committee chairmanship, Rep. John Shimkus. He said the Illinois congressman thinks the committee should look at whether compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which are to replace incandescents in 2014, are reliable and whether they are as energy-efficient as advertised. Should this matter in a free society? If Al Gore wants to heat and light his home to the tune of $30,000 per year - whether he uses incandescents, CFLs or fireflies - does that require congressional hearings? Given choices between CFLs and incandescents, a free American public will determine whether one or both survive.

It is discouraging to learn that House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican Steering Committee endorsed Mr. Upton as Energy and Commerce chairman. Despite his barrage of recent conservative-sounding remarks, Mr. Upton’s history of votes, such as those against the Bush tax cuts on capital gains and in support of Wall Street bailouts, offer little confidence. That record should have tainted his profile as much as universal health care in Massachusetts has harmed former Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations.

If Mr. Upton’s leadership doesn’t shine as incandescently white and hot in oversight of problems like Obamacare and Environmental Protection Agency excesses, let’s hope we can find out how many new Tea Party congressmen it takes to remove him.

Paul Chesser is executive director for the American Tradition Institute and is a special correspondent for the Heartland Institute.

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