Do you think that everyone in Congress is a self-serving, preening blowhard with no sense of responsibility? Sorry: your notion has just been disproved.
Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn’s excellent article yesterday pointed to the emerging consensus among reformers about the key elements of health care reform: 1) insurance regulation to prevent cherry-picking; and 2) subsidies for people who can’t afford it. The article asked at the end why things are coming together this year when they ended in failure in 1993-4:
Asked what was different this time, the current chairman, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, said: “The leadership of President Obama. He made it a very strong, clear priority. He had a mandate from the American people to pass legislation that would provide every American with affordable coverage.”
Moreover, Mr. Waxman said: “The issue is a lot more severe than it was in the 1990s. Fewer stakeholders — doctors, patients, hospitals or insurance companies — want the present system to continue. It will bankrupt the country.”
All true, but Waxman forgot one other key difference: Henry Waxman. He’s been the best Congressmember in America for several decades now. It’s no accident that in 1993, when John Dingell led the committee, the relevant House committees all went their separate ways, and this year, all of them came together.
Oh yeah, and remember climate change, the most impossible issue to deal with? The one where we would never get a bill out? Well, it got out, and it’s called Waxman-Markey. No coincidence, that. Yes, there are important problems with the bill, but the point now is that this moves the process along and helps the bill get to conference, which is where all the action will be.
Of course, someone else who deserves credit for health care progress is Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has continued to fight for things, and is very close to getting a good bill out of the House.
But let’s not overlook Waxman himself. Harold Meyerson called this several months ago, when Waxman was in the midst of what turned out to be a successful challenge to Dingell’s “leadership.” Meyerson noted that Waxman is a “legislative genius”:
Now, after a 14-year winter, it’s legislating season again. Greenhouse gases are rising, the farms and factories producing the things we ingest have been spread across the globe, the number of uninsured has risen. Obama needs an ally on the Hill who can craft bills and obtain votes for the change he’s pledged to deliver. He needs a master legislator. He needs Henry Waxman.
He got him. While there is a long way to go for both health care and climate change, we wouldn’t be here without Waxman. And we should remember that.