Waxman: No Rookie at Taking on Power
For anyone wondering if Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Cal.) is in his right mind challenging Rep. John Dingell (Mich.), the longest-serving Democrat in Congress, for the gavel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, there is this bit of history:
After being elected to his third term in Congress in 1978, Waxman took on Rep. Richardson Preyer (D-N.C.) for chairman of the health subcommittee under what was then the House Commerce Committee. Trouble was, Preyer, a six-term veteran, not only had seniority on the panel but also enjoyed the backing of Democratic leaders.
Waxman lined up supporters and won. A January 1979 report in the Washington Post called the battle “one of the hardest-fought contests ever held for a subcommittee post.”
“The 15-to-12 vote against Preyer was a defeat for the seniority system and members of the leadership who had backed Preyer,” the Post wrote, “and a victory for labor, consumer and environmental groups and junior members who had backed Waxman.”
The big domestic issue of the day was health care. President Jimmy Carter was pushing legislation tackling rising hospital costs and health insurance policy. Representing North Carolina, Preyer was naturally a defender of the tobacco industry, which made him no friend of cancer groups. Also, his family was heavily invested in the pharmaceutical industry. Critics, including Waxman, accused him of having conflicts of interest.
In March 1989, National Journal reported Waxman’s rationale for seeking the subcommittee gavel:
Preyer’s defense of the tobacco industry and his family’s ties to a major pharmaceutical company, Waxman maintained, would have made Preyer a less-effective health advocate.
Sound vaguely familiar?
Fast-forward 30 years. Congress is soon to grapple with energy policy. President-elect Barack Obama said last week that, after the economy, energy independence will be his priority. Much of the legislation will necessarily pass through the Energy and Commerce Committee. Yet, like Preyer and his drug companies, Dingell has close ties to Detroit’s automakers. Many Democrats and environmentalists have been at odds with him for years over his protectionism of the state’s famously regional industry.
Waxman, on the other hand, is an avid environmentalist who clearly sees the arrival of the Obama administration as a rare opportunity to make great strides on fuel-efficiency standards and other Democratic energy priorities.
Get your popcorn. This one’s going to be good.