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National Journal Profile: It’s a Great Time to Be Frank Pallone

Frank Pallone flag

U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-D-6)

Washington, DC, July 27, 2015 ― Frank Pallone feels he got lucky, starts Fawn Johnson’s National Journal profile on the Congressman, who represents New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District.

Pallone ascended to the top Democratic spot on the House Energy and Commerce Committee just before Republicans began reaching out to Democrats to salvage their disastrous start to the current session.  And now, with the GOP looking to mend fences, Pallone says he’s in position to accomplish what few lawmakers currently can: actually make laws.

“I made it my business that I wanted to work with the Republicans,” Pallone said in the interview with Johnson.  “If not, how are we ever going to pass any legislation?” 

In January, Pallone succeeded committee ranking member Henry Waxman, who retired in 2014.

Johnson reports on Pallone’s work on key legislation out of the committee, including the 21st Century Cures Act that overwhelmingly passed the full House on July 9.

On the 21st Century Cures bill, Democrats insisted on a sizable increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health, arguing that the bill’s provisions to kick-start disease research and streamline drug approvals would mean nothing if the NIH continued to operate at 1960s-level budgets.  Republicans insisted on finding ways to offset the additional $9 billion for NIH.

Democrats needed to make sure those offsets weren’t more harmful than the bill they wanted to pass.  This was dicey business, and Pallone had to double-check with his members that they were all happy.  He was careful not to oversell Democrats’ support.

According to Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Pallone was whipping Democrats right up to the final committee vote.  The committee had taken a one-day recess during its markup to allow skeptical Democrats to scrutinize the offsets.

On the evening before the markup reconvened, Pallone informed Upton that he had secured commitments of support from all but seven committee Democrats.

“I said, ‘Well, can’t we get more?’ And he said, ‘I think we’ll be OK,’” Upton remembered.

Ranking Member Pallone’s gambit paid off.  The full committee vote was unanimous.

After the 344-77 vote on the House floor, Pallone sent Upton a handwritten note thanking the chairman for his support.

Pallone believes the 21st Century Cures bill marked a major step forward because it highlighted legislation that both political parties can cheer as victories.  He wants that tone to continue.

“Maybe we’re coming around again,” Ranking Member Pallone muses.

To access Johnson’s full National Journal story, click here.

See also the National Journal’s accompanying story Meet the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Minority Staff.