Fred Upton: U.S. rep a dealmaker for both sides

Republican congressman’s commitment to bipartisanship was shown last year with the landmark 21st Century Cures Act, which passed with overwhelming support from Democrats

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Fred Upton has been committed to bipartisanship since he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986.

Upton, R-St. Joseph, said the importance of reaching across the aisle was implanted in him by former House Minority Leader Robert Michel of Illinois. The longest-serving minority leader in U.S. House history warned him and other incoming GOP lawmakers about the limitations of life in the minority, where Republicans were mired for the first eight years of Upton’s career.

“He said, ‘You’re in the minority, and you have been for 40 years. Three things are going to happen here: Your bills are going to get beaten, they’re never going to get brought up or they’re going to get stolen,’ ” Upton said.

“I said, ‘That’s never, never going to happen to me.’ From day one, my bills have been bipartisan.”

Upton, who has represented southwest Michigan for 30 years, has been a member of the GOP majority from 1995-2006 and since 2011, when he became chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He only lost the position this year because of a House GOP term-limit rule for committee leaders.

The epitome of his philosophy was last year’s passage with overwhelming Democratic support of the landmark 21st Century Cures Act, what he considers his biggest legislative achievement. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama, backed by Vice President Joe Biden and designed to deliver $6.3 billion and reforms to expedite treatment and cures of chronic diseases such as cancer.

“Cures was a big effort. It took three years. We passed it 392-26” in the House, said Upton, 64.

“You don’t solve a disease in one fiscal year. It takes many years.”

Washington-based Republican strategist John Feehery said Upton’s reputation as bipartisan deal-maker is well-earned.

“Fred has always tried to work with Democrats. Sometimes it has been successful and sometimes not,” Feehery said. “Now that he is no longer a chairman, he doesn't have the same pressure to toe the leadership line, which means he has more freedom to be as bipartisan as the Democrats will let him.”

Upton said he continued to reach across the aisle, even as the chairman of a committee that has played a big role in regulating the nation’s auto industry. The result was 202 measures signed into law as chairman, according to Upton’s office.

“I’ve got a lot of friends on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “They know I’m not a partisan finger-waver.”

As a member of the moderate Republican Tuesday Morning caucus, Upton says he has sought a middle ground in efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. He says he stood up to President Donald Trump, insisted on getting more money into the House health care overhaul bill and said he is seeking further improvements in any Senate health care legislation.

Democrats have attacked Upton’s role in the health care legislation and his continued consideration of a possible run against U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, in 2018.

But Upton said he intends to continue working with Democrats, even as rank partisanship seems to rule Washington.

“I want to get things done,” he said. “That’s why I am here.”

Fred Upton

Age: 64

Occupation: Member of the U.S. House of Representatives

Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of Michigan

Family: Wife, Amey; two adult children

Why honored: For his commitment to bipartisanship

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