News Story

Critics Challenge Choosing Upton as Energy Chair

One of Michigan’s congressional representatives is in line to lead an important committee when Republicans take control of the U.S. House in January. But some votes have fiscal conservatives opposing his selection.

Congressman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, is an early favorite to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, which will have a central role in the health care and climate change debates to come. However, his critics say that Upton is not fiscally conservative enough for the job and that a more principled candidate should be chosen instead.

"[T]his would be a tone-deaf disaster if the Republican leadership lets Fred Upton ascend to the chairmanship of the House energy committee,” said conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh on his radio show. “No Republican complicit in nannyism, statism, can be rewarded this way."

Among the bills Rep. Upton has supported is a controversial 2007 measure that led to a phase-out of the incandescent light bulb. It was co-sponsored with liberal Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif.

And, as documented here on, Rep. Upton has supported many other measures likely to be unpopular with fiscal conservatives: a higher minimum wage, more ethanol subsidies, more stringent fuel standards for automobiles and a Medicare prescription drug benefit. Upton also scored low on a congressional "pork" spending ranking produced by the Club for Growth.

He was also one of six Republicans recommended by the Michigan Education Association (MEA) in the most recent election. The vast majority of the public employee union’s endorsements have traditionally gone to Democrats.

This voting record has not gone unnoticed: Two primary candidates have challenged the incumbent during the last decade. This past election cycle, former Rep. Jack Hoogendyk ran hard to Upton’s right on fiscal issues. Despite being substantially outspent by Upton, Hoogendyk still claimed 43 percent of the district’s Republican voters.

However, Rep. Upton has pledged to repeal the federal health care bill and was an early signer of a promise to not raise taxes in response to climate change, the so-called "cap-and-trade" program.

The congressman has used those and other votes to varnish his conservative credentials. In the past few weeks, Upton has written a widely distributed op-ed co-authored with Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), one of the leading limited-government groups in the country. In it, Upton promises to reduce spending and "not tolerate" any tax increases.

But Norquist’s group says this shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement, and notes that they are working on an op-ed with one of Upton’s chief opponents for the chairmanship as well. Norquist has previously criticized Republicans who voted for the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards — as Upton did — because ATR views this as a violation of their no-tax-hike pledge (which Upton signed).

These controversial votes are causing some free-market groups to say Upton’s attempt to frame himself as a taxpayer defender is too little too late.

"[Rep. Upton] was the prime author of legislation that eliminated the incandescent light bulb," said Rick Manning, communications director of Americans for Limited Government. "There are 180 people in Winchester, VA, who are out of work because of this. Those 'green energy' bulbs were supposed to be produced in America… instead they are being built in China.

"We have sent American jobs overseas because of short-thinking and putting government in charge of business instead of letting the market decide."

Rep. Upton’s office issued a press release saying, "The American people not only rejected the Democrats' misguided vision for America, they also heard our message of cutting spending, reducing the size of government, and removing the regulatory burden that has hampered economic growth and destroyed jobs. ... As Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I will fight for these ideals shoulder-to-shoulder with every member of our Conference."

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.