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Pallone vows aggressive agenda as next House Energy and Commerce chief

Democrats made it official and elected New Jersey lawmaker Frank Pallone as the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a panel that has jurisdiction over issues broadly affecting Americans, including healthcare and biopharmaceuticals, energy and climate change, and telecommunications and information technology.

Following the Democrats' recapture of the House in the Nov. 6 midterm elections, Pallone vowed to take action on a myriad of priorities, including lowering healthcare and prescription drug costs; undoing the Trump administration's efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act; strengthening the government's insurance programs for seniors and disabled and low-income Americans; investing in green energy, drinking water and broadband infrastructure; addressing climate change and restoring environmental protections that have been cut; protecting net neutrality; and beefing up privacy and data security protections.

After being unanimously elected the next leader of the Energy and Commerce Committee by the House Democratic Caucus on Dec. 20, Pallone pledged to push forward with his aggressive agenda and said he would "conduct robust oversight of the Trump administration's ongoing actions to sabotage our healthcare system, exacerbate climate change and weaken consumer protections."

SNL Image
Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr.
Source: Associated Press

Pallone has joined the next Democratic chairs of other House panels, including Ways and Means' Richard Neal of Massachusetts, Education and the Workforce's Bobby Scott of Virginia and Judiciary's Jerry Nadler of New York, in saying they would open probes on the Trump administration's handling of various issues, particularly on its reluctance to defend the Affordable Care Act in a lawsuit waged by 20 Republican state attorneys general.

A federal judge in Texas last week declared the ACA unconstitutional a ruling that a coalition of Democrats is planning to appeal. House Democrats also plan to intervene in the case.

Pallone has taken particular aim at the biopharmaceutical industry as well, a sector he is likely to target in the next two years with hearings over their increases in drug prices and other matters.

The New Jersey lawmaker also led the Democratic side in getting the landmark 660-page opioids bill passed by the House in September, which President Donald Trump signed in October, but Pallone said there is more to do.

A stark contrast

At Energy and Commerce, Pallone will be replacing Republican Greg Walden of Oregon, who took the reins of the committee in 2017. A Pallone-led committee will represent a stark contrast to Walden on the internet and telecommunications regulatory front.

While Walden was in favor the U.S. Federal Communication Commission's passage of an order that reclassified broadband as a Title I service, which made it more difficult for the FCC to regulate broadband providers, Pallone has criticized the effort as a step toward handing control of the internet to large corporate interests.

Pallone said he plans to ensure Americans' privacy is protected and said he would conduct oversight over the Trump administration's actions that he said have weakened consumer protections.

The New Jersey congressman has also said a Democratic-led committee would get back to "conducting real oversight of the FCC," which will likely include more oversight hearings of the agency.

In 2017, he introduced an infrastructure bill that would invest $40 billion for deploying "secure and resilient broadband, to expand access for communities nationwide while protecting privacy and promoting security by design."

While the bill did not gain traction in the current Congress, it could receive renewed attention in the next Congress.

Climate change is key focus

Pallone and his Democratic colleagues already have pressed ahead on plans to probe the administration's work to unwind major climate rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In November, they asked EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to turn over documents and other information supporting the agency's decision to repeal the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and ease vehicle fuel efficiency standards and methane regulations for oil and gas producers.

Pallone and other House Democrats are also planning to hold several hearings in early January on the effects of climate change on the economy and communities, while incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for the reformation of a select committee on climate change.