That is how National Journal once described the jurisdiction of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. House rules offer one definition of the committee’s turf, but a practical, bottom-up view of the committee’s territory is visible in the word cloud below. It shows the terms most common to the titles of the almost 350 hearings held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its subcommittees in the 111th and 112th Congresses. The larger the word, the more frequently it appeared in those hearing titles. The topical diversity, from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the wireless spectrum, is one measure of the committee’s broad jurisdiction. But even Energy and Commerce has its specialties.
Health care is one of the committee’s great provinces, as evidenced below by the prominence of words such as “health,” “Medicare,” and “drug.” Energy policy is the committee’s other major domain, but that is a relatively recent development in the committee’s 200-year history. Energy was a marginal issue until the 1970s, but as it grew in importance, the creation of an Energy and Power Subcomittee in 1975 allowed that panel’s chairman, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., to make a claim on energy policy. In 1981, the former Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee was renamed the Energy and Commerce Committee to reflect that newly acquired turf.
Words most common to the titles of hearings held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the 111th and 112th Congresses
A Magnet for Legislation
Over 1,000 bills and resolutions introduced in the 112th Congress were referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee, evidence of the panel’s importance to passing legislation. Only the tax-law writers on the House Ways and Means Committee had more legislation sent their way. Why do referrals matter? As political scientist David King writes in Turf Wars: How Congressional Committees Claim Jurisdiction, “Bill referrals are absolutely critical because they establish the precedents that become common law jurisdictions.”
This article appears in the April 18, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.