Waxman Wins Chairmanship

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Henry Waxman has won his bid to replace John Dingell as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Harold Meyerson wrote a piece at WaPo a couple days ago as to why this would be a good move.

Fundamentally, there are two reasons Waxman would be the better chairman of Energy and Commerce. First, he is probably the House's most accomplished legislator in three issue areas that are high on the agendas of the nation and President-elect Barack Obama: universal health care, global warming and enhanced consumer protections (no small matter with a steadily rising percentage of our food and medication ingredients coming from China). On environmental questions, Waxman offers a sharp contrast to Dingell, who has long been the primary opponent of stricter standards for auto emissions and fuel efficiency.

Second, Waxman is a legislative genius. Most of his legislative accomplishments came before the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, when he chaired the health and environment subcommittee of Energy and Commerce. Progressive legislating has been pretty much off the table since then, which is why he shifted focus to Congress's chief investigative committee. Those who have served in Congress for fewer than 14 years weren't around when Waxman greatly strengthened the Clean Air Act and authored the legislation that expanded Medicaid coverage to the poorest children (enlisting Republican abortion-foe Henry Hyde as his partner in the effort). They didn't see Waxman steer to passage the bills that gave rise to the generic drug industry, required uniform nutrition labels on food, heightened standards of care at nursing homes, created screening programs for breast and cervical cancer, provided health care for people with HIV/AIDS, or expanded Medicaid coverage to the working poor.

In the midst of the Reagan era's cutbacks, Waxman expanded the number of working poor eligible for Medicaid a stunning 24 times. He consistently won key Republican backing for these regulatory and programmatic expansions. In fact, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page ran a series of articles complaining of "the Waxman state," in which, horror of horrors, businesses were compelled to meet environmental and consumer protection standards. Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson once emerged from a marathon conference committee meeting and noted, "Henry Waxman is tougher than a boiled owl."

Some of Waxman's achievements were to keep bad things from happening. For virtually the entire 1980s, Waxman blocked Dingell and the Reagan administration from weakening auto emission standards.

Here is a clear reason why term limits are NOT a good idea.

Congratulations, Chairman Waxman.