U.S. House of Representatives; Chair of Committees with major public health and environmental legislative and oversight jurisdiction
“Tougher than a boiled owl” is how former Senator Alan Simpson described Congressman Henry Waxman’s tenacity in moving the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 through the House of Representatives and the conference with the Senate. Following service in the California Assembly from his suburban Los Angeles district, Waxman was elected to the U.S. Congress where as chair or ranking member of a major committee, he championed public health, environmental protection , and consumer protection for forty years. In the area of environment, he not only shepherded the 1990 clean air legislation but also led enactment of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House and would have established a national greenhouse gas reduction program using a cap-and-trade regulatory system had it passed the Senate. The Affordable Care Act is one more milestone in his leadership on public health policy.
Waxman entered politics because he believes government can be a force for good. He sees part of the job in the environmental arena as ensuring that business competitors had to meet the same standards. As chair of the chief investigatory committee in the House, he led investigations of the catastrophic release of toxic chemicals from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, leading to federal legislation requiring reporting by industry of chemical releases above specified thresholds. Waxman’s hearings in 1994 on the impact of smoking on public health produced memorable performances by tobacco company CEOs claiming disbelief that nicotine is addictive.
Waxman is generous in his praise of many Republican colleagues who contributed to the passage of key legislation. Public support is important, but to pass a good law, “the details are what really counted and we were able to develop the consensus and bipartisan support. “ You need legislators who “stick with it and really believe in what they are doing.” No one did it better than Henry Waxman. He now chairs Waxman Strategies, a communication and lobbying firm and is a Regents’ Professor at the University of California.