Brouhaha on the Hill

By

Fiona Robinson, SeaFood Business associate publisher and editor

Published on
November 6, 2008

The 2008 presidential election is history, but the power struggle on Capitol Hill is just starting. Politicians are jockeying for key committee positions that could have all lobbyists, including those for seafood, scrambling to maintain important relationships.

Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has launched a bid to take over the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee from the powerful Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who has chaired the committee since the 1970s. The mere fact that Waxman is challenging Dingell has everyone in Washington scrambling to figure out how it will all play out, says Diana Bostic, VP of political affairs for the National Fisheries Institute. Waxman's act alone has caused a brouhaha on the Hill, adds Bostic.

Other potential changes on the Hill could arise contingent on the health of two senior senators, Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). Kennedy, 76, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in May and is undergoing chemotherapy. Byrd, 90, the longest-serving member of the senate, fell down last spring and his health has been failing. If either of these senators step down, it could deepen the political power struggles, says Bostic.

In addition, Alaska Sen. Ted Steven's bid for re-election may not be decided for a few more weeks as 55,000 absentee, questioned and uncounted early ballots still need to be counted. Stevens is running against Democrat Mark Begich, mayor of Anchorage. Plagued by felony convictions last week that he is appealing, Stevens' influence on the history of seafood legislation is strong.

At the heart of all of these posts in question is the amount of lobbying the seafood industry, via NFI, will have to do in the near future. Establishing or maintaining relationships with influential senators is important for seafood-dependent states like Alaska, Oregon, California and many others. NFI is developing a new political strategy and expects lobbying efforts will need to be stepped up in the near future.

Depending on how the committee cards fall over the next few months, future political support for offshore aquaculture and the ailing Gulf fishing industry, among many other issues, hangs in the balance.

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