Republican Congressman Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green, has been representing Kentucky’s 2nd congressional district since 2009 and is now a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“A committee with a name like Energy and Commerce maybe sounds kind of boring to regular voters. It doesn’t touch on a lot of the big controversies of the day like we’re usually thinking about,” said Stephen Voss with the political science department at the University of Kentucky. “But, first, commerce is defined by the Constitution as interpreted through the Supreme Court covers a whole lot of American life.”
Although energy doesn’t have as broad of a scope as commerce, Voss highlighted that it also has a huge impact on the state of Kentucky.
“It’s pretty important given that we have the coal mining [industry],” Voss explained. “We have a lot of power plants along the Ohio River.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, first established in 1795, is one of the oldest standing legislative committees in the House of Representatives. It was first named the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures and designed to “regulate interstate and foreign commerce.” It continues to have broad jurisdiction over energy, health care, telecommunications and consumer product safety.
“Guthrie is taking the, sort of, constituency service approach to being a member of Congress,” Voss said. “It’s typically the sort of career that lets you last a long time.”
Within the Energy and Commerce Committee, Guthrie serves as chairman of the subcommittee on health.
“If you’re the chairman of the committee, you’re the offensive coordinator,” Guthrie said in an interview with Spectrum News. “You get to call the plays and the things you are going to focus on.”
Last term, Guthrie sponsored a bill called the Halt Fentanyl Act that would permanently classify fentanyl-related substances as schedule 1 substances. That classification means there’s a high risk for addiction and abuse. It also means that stricter penalties are in place. Guthrie said moving that legislation forward is a top priority for him this term.
“The biggest killer for people 18 to 39 is fentanyl right now,” Guthrie said. “Kentucky’s had a record number of deaths, over 70% of all overdoses are from fentanyl.”
Working to combat the fentanyl crisis is a topic that is receiving bipartisan support. In fact, President Joe Biden mentioned his administration’s plans to fight the epidemic in his most recent State of the Union address.
“Fentanyl is killing more than 70,000 Americans a year,” Biden said.
The White House plan includes disrupting the trafficking, distribution and sale of fentanyl as well as expanding access to evidence-based prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery.
“We also need to address what’s going on at the border,” Guthrie told Spectrum News. “If the president will try to work on fentanyl, we can work on getting fentanyl out of the hands of young people. We are going to continue to do that, but it would be very helpful if he would work to close the border.”
In 2022, the Customs and Border Protection Agency seized 260,000 pounds of illicit drugs, including 15,000 pounds of fentanyl primarily at ports of entry on the border. The plan Biden outlined in his State of the Union address specifically points to increasing inspections there.