Henry Waxman: Not quite the last of the just, but close

I don't fault Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) for leaving Congress. The House of Representatives is a terrible place these days, with the Senate only marginally better. The overwhelming majority of members from both parties have only one goal: it is to be re-elected. Henry Waxman's goal was to improve lives. Reelection took care of itself; his district is as progressive as he is.

Take a look at some of the laws Waxman was instrumental in enacting.

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, which established new programs to reduce urban smog, hazardous air pollution, and acid rain and prevent the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer.Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments, which strengthened the standards for drinking water and established funding mechanisms for drinking water infrastructure improvements.Laws Reducing Childhood Lead Exposure, including laws removing lead from plumbing supplies, water coolers, and children’s toys, requiring disclosure of lead hazards during real estate transactions, and setting standards for safe renovations. The Formaldehyde Standards Act, which set minimum standards for formaldehyde levels from plywood, fiberboard, and particleboard.Laws Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, including provisions requiring greater efficiency in federal buildings and procurement of clean vehicles. The Affordable Care Act, which gives all Americans access to affordable health insurance, strengthens Medicare and Medicaid, and reduces the deficit. Medicaid and CHIP Expansions, which extended the coverage and benefits available to millions of needy and working families. Nursing Home Reforms, which stopped the industry’s worst abuses and protected the rights of vulnerable residents. The Waxman-Hatch Generic Drug Act, which gave rise to the generic drug industry, saving consumers over $1 trillion in the last decade alone.The Orphan Drug Act, which gave drug companies incentives to develop treatments for rare diseases they had previously ignored.The Ryan White CARE Act, which provides medical care and other services to Americans living with HIV/AIDS. Women’s Health Initiatives,including the laws establishing standards for mammography, requiring the inclusion of women in clinical trials, and creating the Office of Research on Women’s Health at NIH. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, which strengthened FDA oversight of vaccine manufacturers and created a no-fault compensation system for vaccine-related injuries. The Nutrition Labeling Act, which mandated the ubiquitous and popular nutrition labels that consumers rely upon to compare packaged foods. The Food Quality Protection Act, which established a strong health-based standard for pesticide residues in food. The Food Safety Modernization Act, which sets science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of raw agricultural commodities and requires new preventative controls for companies that process or package foods. Cigarette and Smokeless Tobacco Health Warning Laws, which required rotating Surgeon General warnings on cigarette packages and advertisements and the first health warnings on smokeless tobacco packages and advertisements. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which restricted the marketing of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to children and gave FDA jurisdiction over tobacco products. The Safe Medical Devices Act, which enhanced public protection from dangerous medical devices by requiring mandatory reporting of adverse events and surveillance and tracking of implantable devices. The Drug Quality and Security Act, which strengthens FDA’s authority over compounded drugs and creates a uniform system for tracking drugs to prevent counterfeits. 

No legislator in our time (except, perhaps the late Senator Edward Kennedy) comes close to matching this record, a record that essentially adds up to the saving of millions of American lives. Waxman's successful war on tobacco alone reduced the lung cancer death rate by millions.  Add Clean Air and Clean Water to that and you come up with an incredible number of saved lives.

Waxman is a remnant of the good old days. Think back to the Progressive Era of Teddy Roosevelt, FDR's New Deal, and LBJ's Great Society when Congress fought the special interests on behalf of the American people and often won. Not always. But enough so that life in America is still far from the unregulated hell envisioned by, among many others,  the Koch Brothers, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz  and Rand Paul.  America only remains a decent country because of the work and lives of men and women like Henry Waxman who not only resisted those two-bit Ayn Rands but beat them, over and over again.

Naturally, I will note the Jewish angle. 

Henry Waxman is utterly devoted to Israel (in fact, he is pretty conservative on Israel). He is also an observant Jew, one of the few in Congress. 

And yet his work in Congress rarely touched on Israel.  He left that to his Los Angeles colleague, Howard Berman.  Waxman focused on the needs of the American people. Like Carl Levin of Michigan, he did what he had to do on Israel, but as a legislator, he worked for America. (His opposite is Chuck Schumer who has devoted his career to supporting Wall Street, the Banking Industry and AIPAC, all cash cows). 

Waxman  comes out of the old socialist Jewish tradition which we now call liberalism or progressivism. Prophets not profits. And always, the people first.

I wish Waxman would run for something else. His governor, Jerry Brown, is a year older than Henry and he is running for re-election. But I doubt that will happen.

Of course, Waxman has accomplished enough for one political life (or 100 these days).

As was once said of Christopher Wren, the man who built St. Paul's Cathedral in London. “If you want to see his monument, look around you.”

As a Jew and as an American, Henry Waxman makes me proud. I think I'll tell my grandkids stories about him. They love hearing about the good guys who win.