All Hail the Short Balding Jewish Guy

That little guy over in the corner with the wimpy mustache? If we get real action on health care and climate change, he’s the one who did it.

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.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.