Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., fights vigorously for the coal, tobacco, and manufacturing interests back home, pushing for free trade, opposing tax increases, and setting limits on government intrusion into the marketplace. But partisanship at times takes a back seat when it comes to benefitting workers in his district or seeking ways to promote energy efficiency.
He is a close friend of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a state colleague who helped Whitfield win his seat in 1994. And for his entire House career he has served on the powerful Committee on Energy and Commerce where he battles Democratic proposals to regulate markets and industry. But he also pushes forward his own ideas and tries to seek some merit in the opposition’s.
While he has opposed major Democratic spending and economic stimulus bills, he has voted against his party to increase the minimum wage, advance pay-as-you-go budget rules, and bring about transparency in earmarks. And he backed the $410 billion omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2009.
Tobacco interests look to him as a powerful ally. He fought the Clinton administration in the late 1990s when it tried to sue tobacco companies, and in 2004 Congress passed his provision in a broad corporate tax law that gave tobacco farmers a 10-year $10 billion buyout. He voted for normal trade relations with China but only after the Chinese agreed to lower tariffs on imported tobacco, and in 2009 he opposed a bill granting the FDA authority to regulate tobacco.
In 2010, as the new ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, Whitfield joined his Kentucky colleagues to appeal to Canada to lift a recent ban on U.S. cigarettes that contain burley tobacco. He also tries to battle the effect of unfair trade practices of China and Indonesia on local paper mills, namely on behalf of NewPage Corp.’s coated paper mill plant in Wickliffe, Kentucky. He supported Democratic bills in July 2010 intended to bolster the U.S. manufacturing sector, but called for the administration to ratify trade treaties with Colombia and South Korea.
A longtime member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Whitfield protects coal producers while encouraging the development of technology to produce “clean” coal. He voted in June 2009 against a Democratic bill to create a system to cap and trade industrial greenhouse gas emissions after failing to move a proposal to set a limit on the price pollution allowances could increase over time.
In 2010, he was one of only two Republicans to vote in subcommittee for a bill—later passed by the House—to provide rebates to homeowners and small business owners who make energy efficient upgrades. That same year he was the only committee Republican to vote for a bill to impose new federal chemical testing requirements for drinking water.
Whitfield also is a member of the Subcommittee on Health. In 2001, Congress cleared his measure to compensate nuclear plant workers for adverse health effects of exposure to radiation—thereby helping workers at the Paducah, Kentucky, uranium enrichment plant. Four years later Congress cleared his measure to allow electronic monitoring of prescription drugs. He voted against the health care overhaul law enacted in 2010, saying he opposed cutting Medicare, increasing taxes, and penalizing individuals who don’t buy coverage.
As a horse lover, he has sought legislation to ban the slaughter of the animals, though none of his bills have made it into law. He also wants to ban the use of steroids in race horses.
Health professionals, the pharmaceutical industry, and electric utilities have been the top industry donors to his campaigns over the years. Tobacco ranks fifth in his donations. His top individual contributors over time have been AT&T and Brown-Forman, a liquor and wine producer headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky.
Written by Christina L. Lyons, copyright 2010 CQ Press, an Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc.