Barton: I'm Eligible To Head E&C Committee Without Waiver

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Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who is ranking member and running for chairman
of the House Energy & Commerce
Committee, told a C-SPAN audience
that if the Republican conference picks him, his first priority will be

to repeal the healthcare bill and replace it with something else.

That came in an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators series Friday.
In
telecom policy, which he said would get co-equal priority below
healthcare, he said it was imperative to maintain the freedom of the
Internet, "but not via Title II reclassification." He said he would be
doing aggressive oversight of the FCC, and that a bill was possible
if necessary to make it "crystal clear" that the FCC does not have
that authority.
He'sopen to reforming the
Universal Service Fund, saying it is "long overdue." He called the USF reform
bill co-sponsored by Reps. cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Rick Boucher
(D-Va.) the ranking member and chairman, respectively, of the
Communications Subcommittee, was a "good first step."
He said
that, generically, the reason he wants to be chairman is to create a
federal system that gives
everyone a chance to better themselves and
their families on a level playing field.
"I am a free market
conservative," he said. "If given the chance to lead it, he said, look
for a "very activist committee."
To get the
chairmanship, Barton will have to get a waiver of term limits since he
has run up against the six-year Republican-set limit of leadership
positions on committees.
Barton pointed out that the same
rule was in place in 1994, when the rule was not applied to five
ranking members who assumed chairmanships. "We didn't apply the
ranking membership time toward their chairman time, I interpret the
rule to be that I served one full term as chairman, so I am eligible,
not entitled, but eligible to be chairman for two more terms," he
said, adding that he would add the Republican Conference steering committee
to clarify the rule.
He said he was an advocate of term
limits--that is how he got the chairmanship--but said they should be applied
to majority time, not when the party is in the minority. He said if the
conference does not see it the same way, he will ask for a waiver.
Asked
what kind of feedback he was getting on his interpretation, Barton said
he was getting positive feedback about his chairmanship, but had
been told interpretation was up to the conference. Barton said that
he thought a bipartisan USF reform package "is something we can move."
There
is general agreement on the Hill and in industry that the fund, which
underwrites phone service where it is uneconomical to deliver via
the free market, needs reform and repurposing toward broadband
subsidies.Barton said he was surprised a privacy bill in this
Congress. He doubted there would be a bill in the lame-duck session,
but said he saw a chance to work with the other side. "I think that is
something we can ]certainly work on. "If we can get the right
coalition together, as chairman I certainly would be very, very willing
to legislation in that area."
He said the FCC will have
to come before Congress and justify its regulations. He said the
hearings would
be "fair and balanced."
Asked if he
thought the FCC would try to push through Title II, Barton said he
thought the FCC commissioners "could read election returns as well
as anybody," and that they would see the wisdom of not trying to
regulate the Internet under Title II." He said he was willing to move a
bill that says they can't, but that he "would expect they can read
the tea leaves as well as anybody."
Republicans support an
open and free Internet, he said, explaning it is not allowed to be
taxed and that "we have an open access policy," all stemming from
the 1996 Telecommunications Act. 
"I think our policy of
allowing the private sector to develop it under rules and regulations
developed by the FCC that are open and transparent has worked very, very
well," Barton added.
He said the concept of net
neutrality is a bit of a misnomer, and that what it would mean was that
the government could regulate the Internet. "I know the new
Republican majority in Congress on the House side doesn't want the
Internet regulated by the FCC," he said, adding that the current policy
is working very well and "if it ain't broke, why fix it?"
Barton
said that he is still troubled by Google's collection of info from
unsecured wifi nets, and that the committee could look further into
that, perhaps coming up with a bill to prevent that from happening again.
The Federal Trade Commission has closed its investigation, and Google
has said the collection was inadvertent and it has taken steps to
remedy it.
He that he could "almost guarantee" that he
would be calling the heads of companies like Google and Facebook to
testify before his committee, if it becomes his committee. "We have to
make sure the private sector plays by the rules."
Asked to
distinguish his chairmanship from that of, say, Fred Upton (R-Mich.),
who is also interested in the post, Barton said he was a "consistent
conservative," while he called Upton "somewhat more moderate." He also
pointed out he had already been chairman for one term.

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