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Joe Barton: Health Care Repeal Is My Alamo

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Barton's ascension to the chair of Energy and Commerce is not assured. His appearance at the Heritage this morning came on the heels of a tough campaign he launched on Capitol Hill to get the gig. Barton would need a waiver of House Republican committee term-limit rules to get the chair -- though he disputes that -- and the waiver could be tough to get when House Republican leaders meet to set up their team before January. Barton has at least two strikes against him. First, he ran against the likely next Speaker, John Boehner, back in 2006 when Republicans were choosing a minority leader.

Second, he became a household name when he offered a surprising public apology to BP after the Obama administration made a deal with the energy giant requiring it to pay for the damage caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. For a brief moment (perhaps difficult to remember in the days after the GOP's electoral sweep), Barton's apology put Republicans on the defensive and put a spring in the Democrats' step.

In short, if Republicans are excited at the prospect of still having Nancy Peolsi to kick around, Democrats are probably just as happy about the idea of Barton at the head of Energy and Commerce. Barton's plan to overcome these strikes against him, it seems, is to lay out an aggressive conservative agenda for the committee that sticks to tea party talking points.

"Within the Energy and Commerce committee we are ground zero in the effort to reestablish conservative principles in the Congress and by extension in the country," Barton told the audience at Heritage today. Barton said the committee has primacy over health care reform, a power he intends to wield should he get control.

"I have advocated that we make Obamacare repeal House bill number one," Barton said. "It will be the first priority of the Energy and Commerce committee."

Barton said he planned to replace the law with fresh legislation that would "replace" the horrors of the Democratic law with bills that would ensure preexisting conditions are covered and tort reform is enforced. He also called for rules allowing insurance to be sold across state lines.

"We have to put reforms in the system so that people who want health reform can get it in a cost effective fashion," Barton said.

But wait, Barton seemed to say, there's more. He took credit for shutting down cap and trade, claiming that if the Republicans and some Democrats on the Democratically-run Energy and Commerce committee hadn't tried to shut down the bill there (they failed and it passed the House), the Senate GOP never would have had the gumption to filibuster it.

"We began to sow the seeds of the ultimate destruction of that bill," Barton said.

Barton intends to keep on fighting environmental fights, even ones that got him in trouble in the past. I asked him after the meeting if he intended to go after the offshore oil drilling regulations Obama put into place following the Gulf oil spill. He said that though most of that fell under the jurisdiction of the Resources Committee, he'd do what he could to fight yet another war against the president.

"To the extent that we have jurisdiction, I would like to take a look at some of that," he told me.

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