Washington -- The race for the House Commerce Committee
helm geared up last week in the wake of current chairman Tom Bliley's (R-Va.)
announcement that he plans to retire at the end of the year.
Bliley, 68, made his announcement at a March 8 press
conference in the Rayburn Office Building -- home of the Commerce Committee and the place
where Bliley's most important achievements over the past five years had their origin.
Commerce is one of the most powerful committees in
Congress, with oversight of the cable, broadcast, satellite, wireless-phone and
landline-phone industries. House members seek appointment to the panel as a platform for
raising campaign money from the industries it regulates.
Assuming Republicans retain control of the House in
November, Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) are expected to wage a
spirited battle to replace Bliley.
"I will tell you this: Billy is convinced that he has
done everything necessary to ensure that he will be the next Commerce Committee
chairman," Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said.
Peggy Peterson, Oxley's spokeswoman, said her boss was
primed for the race. She declined to be specific after a recent news story quoted House
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) as saying that he was displeased with the politicking
going on in connection with committee-chairmanship battles.
"The speaker has just admonished us to cool it,"
As a Democrat, Tauzin voted for the regulatory 1992 Cable
Act mainly because it included program-access provisions that helped to launch the
satellite-TV industry. Oxley voted against the measure, which became law over President
Bliley -- a former mayor of Richmond, Va., and funeral-home
director -- would have been forced to step down next year as Commerce Committee chairman
under House GOP rules adopted in 1995 that limit chairmen to six years.
But as recently as two months ago, Ray Allen Jr.,
Bliley's chief political adviser, said the lawmaker had filed the papers and raised
the money in preparation for another election campaign.
Bliley reportedly told colleagues he would return to
Congress and seek the chairmanship of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, a post
currently held by Tauzin. Oxley is chairman of the Finance and Hazardous Materials
During his chairmanship, Bliley pushed several important
measures, including the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which broadly deregulated the
"Chairman Bliley is one of the true gentlemen of the
Hill. He will be sorely missed not only by his Virginia constituents, but also by all of
those who had the privilege of working with him on public matters," National Cable
Television Association president Robert Sachs said in a prepared statement.