December 27, 2014
My introduction to Henry Waxman came in 1980 watching the film “HR 6161: An Act of Congress” in my political science class at American University. The story was about the passage of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977 where a second-term Rep. Waxman and others took on the true Detroit Lion – Rep. John Dingell. The film depicted how the so-called “Watergate babies” (who were elected following Nixon’s resignation) had challenged the Congressional seniority system and the auto industry and revealed the tenacity that would define Waxman’s legislative career.
This year Waxman is stepping down after 40 years of representing Los Angeles which made him the 6th longest serving member of Congress. As “liberalism’s legislative genius” and one of the “the most accomplished legislators of our time,” he leaves a legacy of landmark legislation that has and will continue to shape the nation for generations.
As depicted in the film, Waxman was a staunch defender of the environment and crafted legislation expanding the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. The impact of the Clean Air Act amendments will have produced $2 trillion in economic benefits and saved 4.2 million lives by the end of this decade. He also drafted the American Clean Energy and Security Act that passed the House in 2009 that would have capped carbon emissions.
While Waxman is properly recognized as the most accomplished legislator in environmental matters, a senior member of President George W. Bush’s administration noted, “fifty percent of the social safety net was created by Henry Waxman.” During the 1980’s, when many New Deal/Great Society programs were under attack by the Reagan-Bush administrations, Waxman was able to expand the Medicaid program twenty-four times. He was also a major player in the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Waxman’s legacy extends to reforming laws regulating nursing homes to prevent abuses, the Generic Drug Act, passing standards for nutritional labeling, limiting pesticide use in our food supply and establishing warning labels on cigarettes.
Waxman also was a master at Congressional oversight and investigation for which he has been called “the Democrats’ Eliot Ness,” and the “the most feared Democrat on Capitol Hill.” In the iconic photo in which all the major cigarette executives are standing with their hands raised swearing to tell the truth before denying any link between cigarettes and cancer, they are all facing Henry Waxman. When Time Magazine listed the top ten “corporate grillings” in Congressional history – this tobacco hearing along with Waxman’s grilling of Blackwater’s CEO about their Iraq activities, the Lehman Brothers’ CEO on the financial collapse and BP’s CEO on the Gulf Oil Spill were on that list.
During the last decade, when Republicans controlled the White House and the House of Representatives for much of the time, Waxman still managed to conduct piercing investigations that documented the Bush administration’s lies about the Iraq War and politicization of science.
I met with the Congressman and his staff on several occasions on tech issues. While Waxman is by no means a tech geek like his successor Ted Lieu, he and his stellar staff always were on top of the issues and extremely responsive.
A few years ago many of us grieved over the passing of the Senate’s liberal lion Ted Kennedy. Waxman is Kennedy’s equivalent in the House and his departure is a major milestone for that reason. As the Los Angeles Times once noted, when the history of post-World War II America is written, the three Californians who will be remembered for having the most impact on people’s lives were Chief Justice Earl Warren, President Ronald Reagan and Congressman Henry Waxman.
It is said that words are dwarfs and deeds are giants – which makes Henry Waxman the world’s first 5′-5″ super-giant.
Thank you Congressman Waxman. Your district, your state and your country thank you for your exemplary service.