Politix - The Internet is Set to Get its Own Congresswoman
February 18, 2014
In The News
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo supports electric cars too
By David Mark
There's a rare opening for one of the most plum committee posts in Congress. And Silicon Valley-area Congresswoman Anna Eshoo is seeking Democratic colleagues' support to fill it.
The Northern California lawmaker wants to become the top Democratic member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, at a time when technology issues are more prominent than ever.
The committee's purview "is sweeping, it's all about the future," Eshoo said in an interview with Politix. "And very powerful. It holds the power to seize the future for America. It really is the most dynamic of committees, with its jurisdiction."
If Eshoo wins the post and Republicans hold their majority in the November 2014 midterm elections, she would become the top Democrat - ranking member - on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Should Democrats win the House majority - a tough, but doable challenge - Eshoo would ascend to chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Either way, she would be the first woman to hold the panel's top Democratic slot.
The position is opening with the retirement of Rep. Henry Waxman after this term. The Southern California Democrat, first elected in 1974, chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee before Democrats lost the majority in 2010.
Politico notes that the Energy and Commerce Committee has the broadest portfolio in Congress, including health care, energy and the environment. "The top Democrat on the panel will be responsible for defending the Affordable Care Act if Republicans retain control of the House next year, along with President Barack Obama's climate change strategy."
Technology is among the Energy and Commerce Committee's key jurisdictions.
"When I think of Energy and Commerce I think of the committee of the future," Eshoo said. "Its jurisdictions are extraordinarily broad and deep. Every single part of its jurisdiction is part of the American people and their day-to-day lives. The water we drink, the air we breathe, the drugs we ingest. And all telecommunications and technology."
Eshoo, first elected in 1992, and on the Energy and Commerce Committee since her second House term, has a long history of legislative action on tech issues. She is ranking member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee.
"When I think of where I do all my legislative work, it's a great matchup with my district. There's a reason why I pursued Energy and Commerce when I came to Congress."
Her legislative efforts include bills to increase internet access for school and to allow the use of electronic signatures in business transactions. The 2014 Almanac of American Politics writes that Eshoo:
"Has long argued in favor of ensuring an adequate supply of spectrum that any company can use for free. As part of a spectrum auction bill that the House passed in 2012, she and other Democrats successfully fought to include a provision that empowers the Federal Communications Commission to set aside some of the reclaimed spectrum for that purpose. A measure she introduced in June 2012 called for phone companies to disclose the speeds of their next-generation networks in stores and on customer bills.
Eshoo is a strong supporter of net neutrality, the concept that broadband providers should be prohibited from blocking certain traffic or setting up tier pathways for internet content. House Democrats are pushing to restore the net neutrality regulations promulgated by the Federal Communications Commission and struck down in part last month by a federal court."
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that Reps. Eshoo and Waxman "unveiled a bill that would reinstate the FCC's 'open internet' order prohibiting internet providers from blocking or discriminating against web traffic. While the law would be in effect only until the FCC can come up with its own solution accommodating the court's legal objections, it would again require companies like Verizon and AT&T to treat all types of Internet content equally."
Eshoo said she's confident the FCC wil find "a prudent way to do this."
"I don't think any consumer would stand up and raise their hand and say, 'I want discrimination and I want blocking.' That's my view, I have always held it, and I will continue to hold it."
"What I found so interesting about the federal court decision, is who brought the suit," Eshoo said. "These were not consumers. It was Verizon. I fully appreciate and understand that business, especially publicly-held corporations, have a bottom line to their shareholders. But my job description and responsibility is to consumers."
Eshoo is also a longtime proponent of electric cars, a burgeoning Silicon Valley industry. She carried legislation, particularly when the Democrats were in the majority, to improve U.S. infrastructure for electric cars. Government can be a helpful facilitator of this growing clean energy approach to transportation. "This is where our direction in R&D is so crucial," she said.
Eshoo hardly has a clear path to the top committee slot. Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey is running, and he has more House and committee seniority than Eshoo. And Rep. John Dingell of Michigan has indicated he might be interested in a return engagement as top Democrat on the panel.
Dingell, 87, and now in his 58th year in the House, is largely responsible for turning the Energy and Commerce Committee into the powerhouse panel it is today. Dingell chaired the committee for 14 years, starting in 1981. After House Democrats reclaimed the majority in 2006, Dingell was chairman of the powerful committee until 2009, when Waxman ousted him in a nasty battle for the gavel.
The Hill notes that it's unclear whether Dingell could get enough Democratic support to be the committee's ranking member - or chairman again, if Democrats won back the House. "Dingell's friendship with the auto industry, past resistance to some environmental regulations and working relationship with House Republicans who've chaired the committee, including a friendship with Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), have led to fights with other Democrats in years past."
Pallone is a more solid contender. Politico reports that Pallone, first elected in 1988, "has served as chairman or ranking member of three of the committee's six subcommittees and is running on his seniority. He's also done extensive fundraising for colleagues. He represents a district in central New Jersey, which encompasses parts of the Jersey Shore and is home to several large pharmaceutical companies."
Of course, there's plenty of fundraising opportunities in Eshoo's district, too. California's 18th District, the Almanac of American Politics writes, "includes large portions of Silicon Valley, along with Palo Alto and Stanford University. Further south along El Camino Real are Mountain View and the several thousand employees of Google. There are some ultra-wealthy enclaves here."
Elections for leadership and committee posts will take place within the Democratic caucus after the November elections and before the next Congress is sworn in early next year. These contests are famously inside games.
"It's a long effort," Eshoo said. "It's one-on-one with members. Conversations, visits - it's a lot of work, but it's worth it. I love spending time with colleagues."
On that front Eshoo may have a key ally in her pursuit of the top Democratic position on the Energy and Commerce Committee - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The pair was friends long before they arrived in Congress. In Pelosi's 2007 book Know Your Power, the then-House speaker from San Francisco called Eshoo, her Bay Area colleague, "one of my dearest friends in the world."
"We've been friends since our children were youngsters," Eshoo said. Upon hearing that Eshoo was seeking the top Energy and Commerce Committee spot, Pelosi "was very pleased. She understands the power the Energy and Commerce Committee has. How dynamic it is, and what it can produce for the American people."