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Stupak to chair 1st Toyota inquiry

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Stupak to chair 1st Toyota inquiry

Timing a coup on auto safety issue



WASHINGTON -- Michigan's Bart Stupak is front and center again.

The Democratic congressman from Menominee in the Upper Peninsula, Stupak will be in the chairman's seat Tuesday as the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations begins its examination of Toyota's problems with sudden acceleration.

Stupak pulled off a coup this week, moving his hearing ahead two days to leapfrog a Toyota hearing set for Wednesday, angering, according to one source familiar with discussions in Congress, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

By being first, Stupak will get the early attention on a topic that has transfixed the nation -- one that congressional expert Norm Ornstein says couldn't come at a better time.

"This is a disaster for Toyota," he said. "It's a godsend for Congress."

The reason? Partisan bickering over health care reform and high unemployment have the public angry. But the Toyota investigation, said Ornstein, is "an issue where you can look to be on the side of the public," no matter your political party.

For Stupak, it provides another opportunity to be in the limelight, though it's likely to be in stark contrast to the battle he helped spark a few months ago within his own party over health care reform.

He led a band of legislators who insisted that insurance policies paid for in part by government subsidies not cover abortions. The so-called Stupak amendment became a rallying cry for abortion rights supporters.

As Ornstein notes, Stupak, a former state trooper, isn't a "natural glory hound." But, over the years, he has learned from his former chairman on the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- Dearborn Democrat John Dingell -- to be an effective interrogator.

On food safety issues, drug interaction and medical testing, he has dogged witnesses. During a contentious hearing last summer on insurance companies rescinding people's coverage, Stupak pointedly asked one executive who said it would be too difficult to fully gather a person's entire medical records before granting him coverage in the first place, "Isn't it better to delay the process to make sure the person's insured as opposed to pulling them when they're going through cancer?"

"He's gotten quite a bit of attention in the last six months or so," said Bill Ballenger, publisher of the Lansing-based newsletter Inside Michigan Politics. So much so, he was even considered as a gubernatorial candidate this year before he ruled it out.

When it meets Tuesday, the subcommittee will have its work cut out. Some 60,000 pages of documents are in the hands of the committee regarding potential issues -- key questions could be who knew of any problems and when.

And there could be regional, if not partisan, divides. Governors from Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and Mississippi -- and perhaps others with major Toyota operations in their states -- asked congressional investigators to be fair.



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Kinda makes you feel bad for Toyota that they've become a convenient scapegoat and something to distract the public from issues the politicians should be working on.

Although if those documents reveal that Toyota was indeed covering things up, well then they're just asking for it.


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