New House Commerce Committee Organizes for the 106th Congress

(January 8, 1999) The House Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over about half of the high tech related legislation, reorganized for the 106th Congress on Thursday morning, January 7.   Some of the most pro-tech members of the Committee have left, and been replaced.   The key chairmanships remain the same.

The House Commerce Committee introduced new members, debated the ratio of Republicans to Democrats, and adopted a resolution setting the rules of the Committee.  The Committee also approved resolutions which defined the jurisdiction of each subcommittee, set the size of each subcommittee, appointed the Chairmen of each subcommittee, and set the Republican membership of each subcommittee.  The Democrats have yet to make their designation of subcommittee members and ranking members.

Related Page

Speech by Rep. Tom Bliley outlining agenda for House Commerce Committee for 106th Congress, 12/21/98.

Rep. Tom Bliley (R-VA) is once again the Chairman of the Committee.  Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) is again the Chairman of the key Telecommunications Subcommittee.  Rep. Mike Oxley (R-OH) returns as Chairman of the Finance and Hazardous Waste subcommittee, which is important because it has jurisdiction over securities related legislation, such as the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act passed last year.

Several members of the Committee in the 105th Congress (1997-1998) retired or lost their re-election contests.  Moreover, several of these were very supportive of the high tech agenda.  In particular, Rick White from the Seattle area lost his re-election bid in November.  He had been a Co-chair of the Internet Caucus, and a sponsor or co-sponsor of many of the high tech bills passed in the 105th Congress.

The table below list the persons who were Committee members in the 105th Congress, but who are not on the Committee for the 106th Congress.  The fourth column shows each members score on the Tech Law Journal Congressional Scorecard 1998.  This is a rating of all Representatives' and Senators' support for high tech, based on five criteria.  100 denotes a perfect score.

Departed Members of the House Commerce Committee

Name Party District 1998
Reason for Leaving
Michael Crapo R ID-2 80 Elected to Senate
Dennis Hastert R IL-14 80 Elected House Speaker
Scot Klug R WI-2 100 Retired
Bill Paxon R NY-27 60 Retired
Dan Schaefer R CO-6 40 Retired
Rick White R WA-1 100 Lost re-election
Elizabeth Furse D OR-1 80 Retired
Tom Manton D NY-7 20 Retired

One notable new member is Rep. Chip Pickering (R-MS).  He was first elected in 1996.  Before that he was an aide to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott who worked on telecommunications issues, and in particular, the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The outgoing members were replaced by nine new members.  They are listed in the table below.

New Members of the House Commerce Committee

Name Party District 1998
Roy Blunt R MO-7 20
Ed Bryant R TN-7 60
Bob Ehrlich R MD-2 40
Vito Fossella R NY-13 60
Chip Pickering R MS-4 60
John Shadegg R AZ-4 40
Tom Barrett D WI-5 60
Lois Capps D CA-22 60
Bill Luther D MN-6 80

The ratio of Republicans to Democrats had been 28 to 23 at the beginning of the 105th Congress.  However, when Heather Wilson was elected in mid 1998 to fill the seat of Steven Schiff, who died in office, she was appointed to the Committee, making a 29 to 23 balance.  8 members have left the Committee, including 6 Republicans and 2 Democrats.   9 new members were appointed, 6 Republicans and 3 Democrats, for a new ratio of 29 to 24.

At the organizational meeting on Thursday morning, most of the two hours of discussion and debate was devoted to this ratio.  Democrats argued that the Republicans had a much larger percentage of the Committee seats than they had of the whole House of Representatives.

Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) argued the issue:

Mr. Chairman, the issue is about more than numbers. It is about fairness, and how this committee will operate. By maintaining an unfair majority in the Committee, I see three consequences, and all will be bad: First, it may make it easier to pass bills without bipartisan support. These bills will only create partisan gridlock when they reach the Floor. Second, it will be easier for the Majority to block many popular bills, such as the Patients Bill of Rights, that have broad support in the House, including the support of Republicans. Third, it will encourage those of us in the Minority to use the House Floor, rather than the Committee, to amend legislation, because our numbers are fairer on the Floor.  (See, complete copy of Dingell Statement.)

Many of the other Democrats on the Committee also argued the ratio issue.   Chairman Bliley stated that the ratio was not set by the Committee, and that he had no control over the ratio. 

Several members debated how to calculate the percentages of the seats held by each party in this and early Congresses, while staffers punched away at their pocket calculators.  This led one member to quip, "There are three kinds of people: those who can do arithmetic, and those who can't."

There is another imbalance on the Committee which was not noted at the meeting.   The West Coast, and especially the Pacific Northwest, are now underrepresented.   There are now no representatives from Seattle, Portland, or the states of Washington or Oregon.  Rick White and Elizabeth Furse had represented Seattle and Portland, respectively.  Neither was replaced.  Their departures leaves two leading high techcenters unrepresenated.  And in particular, Microsoft and Intel, have lost their representation on the Committee.

There are now five committee members from California.  All but one is from Southern California.


Resolutions Adopted
(links to Commerce Committee website):

  • A Unanimous Consent Request by Rep. Dingell that, after the completion of the Democratic Caucus meeting to select Ranking Minority Members and Subcommittee assignments and upon notification to the Chairman of such assignments, those Members will be considered as the Ranking Minority Members and Members of each Subcommittee without a further meeting of the Full Committee, was agreed to.
  • In addition, an announcement was made by Chairman Bliley that Rep.Paul Gillmor has been designated to serve as the Vice Chairman of the Committee on Commerce for the 106th Congress.