This is a big deal:
California Rep. Henry A. Waxman on Thursday officially dethroned longtime Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, upending a seniority system that has governed Democratic politics in the House for decades.
In a secret ballot vote in the Cannon Caucus Room, House Democrats ratified an earlier decision by the Steering and Policy Committee to replace the 82-year-old Dingell with his 69-year-old rival. The vote was 137-122 in favor of Waxman.
The ascension of Waxman, a wily environmentalist, recasts a committee that Dingell has chaired since 1981 with an eye toward protecting the domestic auto industry in his native Michigan. The Energy and Commerce Committee has principal jurisdiction over many of President-elect Barack Obama's top legislative priorities, including energy, the environment and health care.
Pelosi tried a while back to find a compromise, but Dingell wouldn't have it:
Meanwhile, few in the House will forget that she tried to solve this problem months ago by letting Dingell remain at Energy and Commerce and creating a new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Dingell fought her efforts, and managed to neuter the new committee. It has nothing more than an advisory role. But it's now clear that what looked like a win for Dingell was actually prelude to a much larger loss. He not only loses jurisdiction over global warming, but over health care and most everything else. And on some level, he's been publicly humiliated. Recalcitrant chairmen are going to be far more afraid of crossing Pelosi this afternoon than they were this morning.
With Waxman as chairman, the Democrats now have a supremely able legislator in a position where he can move President Obama's agenda. Waxman, after all, is the congressman who was able to expand the number of people covered by Medicaid on 24 separate occasions during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidencies, by winning just enough Republican support for each of his expansions. He's the congressman who fended off a decade-long effort by Reagan and Dingell to gut the Clean Air Act. On health care, fuel-efficiency standards, consumer protections, alternative energy, and global warming, he'll be Obama's enabler in the House and a force unto himself for progressive change and environmental stewardship.