The Honorable Henry Waxman addressed Wednesday night’s symposia as part of the JHU Leadership Lecture series.
Mr. Waxman recently retired from Congress, after having served for 40 years representing the 33rd Congressional District in California. Mr. Waxman was a prolific leader on the Hill in the areas of the environment, healthcare, energy, and technology. He served as Chair of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, as well as the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. His legislative accomplishments are numerous, but some of the highlights include: the Infant Formula Act, the Ryan White CARE Act, the Drug Price Competitition and Patent Term Restoration Act, the Clean Air Act, the Food Quality Protection Act, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, and most recently the Patent Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Waxman shared that he entered government with the conviction that there are two essential roles for government: to provide all citizens with the opportunity to succeed and to provide a safety net that recognizes the humanity of all citizens. Thus, he decided to focus early in his career on domestic issues, and in particular health care and environmental policy.
Mr. Waxman discussed how as a liberal Democrat, he sought out the support and opinions of Republicans, not simply for the sake of compromise, but with the main goal of sharpening and improving policy. He noted that he had to battle with a fellow Democrat John Dingell over automobile emission levels in the Clean Air Act amendments and that the bill passed because a Republican president, George H.W. Bush, made it a priority. Some of his proudest legislative accomplishments, Mr. Waxman recounted, came under President Reagan with the expansion of Medicaid, and his bipartisan collaboration with pro-life Republican Henry Hyde, who became his close ally on prenatal care legislation. He also worked closely with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch on the Orphan Drug Act.
Acknowledging the increasing partisanship in Congress, the origins of which Mr. Waxman traces back to Newt Gringrich, he concluded that he still holds an optimistic view of Congress, especially in its capacity to educate the public through hearings. He recalled holding the first ever hearing on what was then a new epidemic, AIDs, in the early 1980s as well as on Big Tobacco in the 1990s. He also reiterated the positive role of Congress in stepping in to fill in the gap of market failures, such as what we saw most recently in the passage of the Affordable Care Act.