Barton Pledges Strong Oversight Of FCC

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If Republicans win back the House, as many are predicting, and if Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) gets to reclaim the chairmanship, expect vigorous oversight of federal agencies, including the Federal Communication Commission.

Barton signaled just that in an op-ed in the Washington Times Thursday. He is among a number of Republicans known to be interested in the job, including former Communications subcommittee chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a big fund-raiser for the party, and Cliff Stearns, current ranking member on the Communications subcommittee.

That means look for hearings and information requests on a host of issues. One of the 10 things he has pledged to "uncover" in the first six months of next year is "why the Obama administration's Federal Communications Commission thinks the Internet needs federal government regulation for the first time."

He called getting the answer one of the ways to "start cleaning up the mess." He is also eyeing hearings on healthcare and environmental policy.

Barton and other Republicans refused to sign off on a compromise network neutrality bill being encouraged by the FCC and pushed by Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Separately, the FCC has proposed expanding and codifying its open Internet principles once it has more clearly established its Internet oversight authority.

"Congress' oversight function is not a license to bully political opponents," Barton wrote, but he also said that "Our first job will be to find out what's gone wrong. That's why the return of vigorous congressional oversight is going to be a top priority for me and the committee next year."

He did not overtly call it payback, but he did point out that at the end of the Bush administration, the Democrats engaged in "furious oversight" that he said became less enthusiastic when a Democratic president took over.

A Republican committee staffer speaking on background said to also expect similar vigorous oversight of issues, including the broandband stimulus spending and build-outs under National Telecommunications & Information Administration and Agriculture Department programs, as well as on Universal Service Reform and privacy.

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