Tauzin takes over combined Commerce

Stearns faces competition for telcom subcom chairmanship

Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) officially became chairman of the renamed House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, a position he has actively sought for the past two years. It was not yet clear who would be his successor atop the House Telecommunications Subcommittee.

The new post should put the already highly visible Tauzin even more in the spotlight as he spearheads both telecommunications and energy policy. President-elect George W. Bush has said that developing a national energy policy will be one of the top priorities of his administration.

House leadership awarded Tauzin's rival, Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio), the top spot in the newly created House Financial Services Committee, formerly the House Banking Committee. The new committee includes jurisdiction over securities and insurance, both of which were formerly the province of House Commerce. Oxley was not a member of that committee, and his appointment to the job routed several contenders.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) complained bitterly on the House floor last Wednesday that Republicans were inappropriately shifting power from Commerce to Banking to "take care of one member."

Dingell also pointed out that the Banking Committee presided over several scandals, including the savings and loan debacle of the'80s, while the Commerce Committee "has always seen to it that the interests of the American investors were protected."

Dingell added: "I would simply tell my colleagues, 'You have created the opportunity for splendid scandals and you have created something else: You have made your choice of fools, and I should say that you should now look forward to a splendid disaster. It is coming.'"

Tauzin also said on the House floor that he was unhappy about the power-shifting.

At press time, subcommittee heads had not yet been selected, but sources report that Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) may have stiff competition to replace Tauzin as head of the important Telecommunications Subcommittee. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) is expected to head the Veterans' Affairs Committee, a slot for which Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) was vying. Bilirakis has seniority in the Telecommunications Subcommittee, and may get that spot. Sources said last week that the House might make those decisions over the weekend, or it may be another week.

No matter who heads the subcommittee, Tauzin still will stay very involved in telecommunications issues, Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson noted.

Both Tauzin and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) plan to focus on reforming the FCC during the next Congressional session-a task that should be easier with a Republican administration in place.