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Who Will Watch Over Obama’s Shoulder?

Not Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) if he can help it.

As Mike flagged yesterday, Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, will challenge Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) for the post of House Energy and Commerce Committee chair. Waxman called Dingell this morning. A Dingell spokesman has called the challenge “unhealthy.”

Dingell is the most senior member of the Democratic caucus, having been in Congress since 1955.

But Waxman may be well-positioned to challenge Dingell for the chairmanship of the committee that has jurisdiction over energy, the environment and health care policy.

In his two years as House oversight chair, he’s been– perhaps along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) — the most outspoken critic of George W. Bush’s environmental policies. While Waxman spent much of 2007 investigating the Iraq war, his focus this year has largely been on the EPA’s failure to draw up global- warming regulations.

Dingell has been criticized by Waxman and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for putting the needs of the auto industry ahead of environmental concerns. Pelosi even campaigned for Dingell’s primary opponent in 2002.

A 50-member Democrat steering committee and then the full Democratic caucus will vote on whether Waxman or Dingell gets the powerful post. If Waxman loses, it’s not known whether he would return to the oversight committee. The No. 2 Democrat on the committee in terms of seniority is Rep. Edolphus Towns, (D-NY), chairman of the committee’s government management subcommittee.

The last hearings that Towns held were on the presidential transition and “Management of the Digital TV Transition: Is New York Prepared?”

Waxman’s possible departure would not be the only big change in the world of House oversight. Top committee Republican Tom Davis of Virginia retired. And No. 3 Republican Chris Shays was not reelected. Shays was the lone remaining New England Republican in the House.

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