When Dingell took the committee gavel, he said he was very scared and spoke to a mentor, then-House Parliamentarian Lou Deschler. Deschler gave Dingell two rules.
The first rule is youve got to be fair. The second is youve got to appear fair. ... I was impeccably fair.
Dingell fought with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in 2007 over major energy legislation, when at one point a frustrated Dingell urged Pelosi to let him build a bipartisan bill that would include new auto fuel-economy standards but also protect the industry from layers of state regulation.
Im going to get you a bill, not a Democratic bill, but a Democratic accomplishment, he said to Pelosi.
Pelosi kept a tight hold over the energy bill, and the dust-up helped lead to Rep. Henry Waxmans (D-Calif.) ascension to the top of the committee after the 2008 elections.
But Dingell continues to urge a bipartisan approach, pointing to successes such as the consumer product safety bill that passed last year without opposition.
People dont judge you whether you get a bill, he said. They judge you on what you get done.
Dingell said he has always told his staff: You go find the facts. We will cook the politics to suit the facts.
Dingell said that too often, especially recently, the facts have been cooked to suit the politics by partisans on the far left and far right.
The best legislating is done in the middle, he said. Everyone around heres got something to say.
Dingell, who recently signed on to a letter to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) urging a return to regular order, blames former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) for warping the rules after the Republican revolution in 1994. Gingrich started out this system of cooking the rules, he said.
Dingell speaks with frustration about episodes such as the Medicare drug bill, which was drafted by Republicans behind closed doors.
They wouldnt let us in the room, he said. Dingell voted against the drug benefit, even though he had first put in a bill to add prescription drugs to Medicare in 1966.
Dingell still speaks positively of Pelosi, despite their frequent sparring. I happen to like Nancy, he said. Nancys a good Speaker. Her history is not yet written. This session is going to be a test of her ability. Im going to try and make her a success.
With the economy in a tailspin, Dingell, who remembers the Great Depression and refers to it frequently when discussing the current crisis, recalls his warning in 1999 when Congress and President Bill Clinton repealed part of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which limited the activities of commercial banks.
I warned it would create an economic calamity. ... Thats exactly what freed up the banks to do all the stupid things they did.
There are a few important goals left in his mind. Dingell is still trying to save the auto industry noting that every other country is helping out their automakers during the fiscal crisis and he hopes to put a few more capstones on his career, starting with enacting universal health care.