WASHINGTON – A young man stepped up to a microphone in the aisle of the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue Wednesday,seeking guidance from one of Congress's most effective watchdogs on how to curb the military-industrial complex.
The man complained that the military targets pre-teens through virtual reality games and seeks F-22 fighter aircraft even though they serve no useful purpose.
Rep. Henry Waxman,D-Calif.,prescribed the same formula he's used over the past 35 years to pass legislation and regulate everything from big tobacco to big-time baseball: Blend idealism about the ability of individuals and the government to create change with the pragmatism to befriend political foes.
“Someone fighting a fight that is worthwhile can make a difference,” Waxman told him. Yet he cautioned to not “make your enemy so broad that you put everyone together.”
Balancing idealism with pragmatism has been Waxman's recipe for success on numerous pieces of health and environmental legislation,as he describes in his book “The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works.” Waxman and The Atlantic's Joshua Green co-wrote the book,which was released July 2.
Waxman summarized his work to about 300 people at an event sponsored by the Politics & Prose bookstore,took questions and signed books.
He chairs the House's Energy and Commerce Committee,and from 2007 to 2009 chaired the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Waxman put his knowledge of congressional protocol to work in the mid-1990s to discredit the major cigarette companies.
“You cannot deal with health in the United States of America without realizing the terrible toll that tobacco takes on our population,” he said. “Everything that was going on in the industry was completely despicable.”
Most Americans now realize that cigarette makers manipulated nicotine levels to make their product more addictive and marketed cigarettes to teenagers,Waxman said. But back then,such claims were contentious and fought vigorously by the wealthy tobacco companies.
“They came before the committee,raised their hand,promised to tell the truth and lied,” he said. This display prompted tobacco industry employees to leak documents that undermined the claims of their executives.
Waxman has been prominent on Capitol Hill this year due to his co-sponsorship of a bill to reduce carbon emissions through a cap and trade system and his committee's role in reforming health care.
For cap and trade,Waxman said he would like the Senate to pass a bill quickly so any differences with the House version can be worked out in a conference committee.
He wants to ensure that legislation has passed before December's United Nations Climate Change Conference to boost President Barack Obama's leverage in obtaining an international agreement on carbon emissions.
Robert Copaken,of Rockville, Md.,a former economist for the Energy Department's Office of International Affairs who attended the speech,said he admired Waxman's efforts to build coalitions. But he said it is unrealistic to assume that environmental legislation like the cap and trade bill can solve the country's energy problems because of the country's dependence on the international oil market.
On issues ranging from AIDS research to steroids in baseball,Waxman has been ahead of the curve,staking a position that was controversial at the time but conventional now. Waxman said that additional research will eventually turn public opinion to his side on contemporary issues as well.
“After we pass the energy bill and the health care bill,people will say,‘Did you know that the United States at one time had a health care system that cost more than any health care system in the world?'”