Political activist and philanthropist Tom Safran hosted an intimate breakfast gathering of constituents in his Brentwood home for Henry Waxman, who has represented the 30th Congressional District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1974. Considered to be one of the most influential liberal members of Congress, Waxman is relentless in putting powerful people on the hot seat. In his former role as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, he investigated a whole range of health and environmental issues, including universal health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid coverage, AIDS and air and water pollution. Waxman began his talk by quoting a recent Time magazine article in which, despite his short stature and having the “panache of your parents’ dentist,” he was dubbed the “Scariest Guy in Town.” The Nation magazine bestowed the title of the “Eliot Ness of the Democratic Party.” Living up to this title, Waxman has been actively pursuing the wrongdoings within the Bush administration, which “is the most secretive Administration in the history of this country – even more secretive than the Nixon White House.” He added, “I can’t remember a time when things have looked as gloomy as they have for the past six years.” There is a glimmer of hope, however, as, with the Democrats returning to power, Waxman is now chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and possesses a powerful weapon – subpoena power – one of the most feared tools in Washington. Ironically, it is thanks to the Republicans that he has this set of levers, as, under a rules change in the days of the Bill Clinton witch hunt, the leader of Government Reform is the only chairman who can issue subpoenas without a committee vote. It is interesting, he noted, “That since a Republican entered the White House, the G.O.P. Congress has been far less enthusiastic in its oversight.” Waxman’s talk touched on a number of issues, and as expected, the overriding question on everyone’s mind was the war in Iraq. He emphasized: “We must pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis in the Middle East and set a timetable for troop withdrawal and then withdraw.” He added, “The real power Congress has in bringing this war to an end is control of the purse strings.” He talked about the unaccounted-for 363 tons of cash amounting to $12 billion in $100 bills sent to former U.S. occupation chief in Iraq Paul L. Bremer, which, according to Waxman, “was haphazardly handed out to Iraqis based on how many employees they had to pay.” He added, “Never has there been a transfer of cash of this magnitude, and some of this money may have wound up in the hands of insurgents so that we were funding both sides.” Waxman is making the use of government funds one of his highest priorities, as “to keep the troop levels down, the Bush Administration has hired mercenaries so that the war has been privatized.” He indicated that it appeared there was no oversight for these people, but that the recent Oversight Committee hearing focused on the Department of Homeland Security’s management of large contracts that rely on private contractors. One local problem discussed was how to get relief from the gridlock facing residents living west of Sepulveda. The construction of a subway line, formerly killed by Waxman, was being revisited now that new technology has removed the danger of a methane explosion similar to the one in the Fairfax district. Henry Waxman is soft-spoken but puts a new spin on the old adage, “He walks softly and carries a big stick.” He is determined to get to the bottom of all that has plagued this country under the Bush Administration from faulty pre-war intelligence and the suspension of Habeas Corpus to the trampling of states’ rights. He reminded us all: “Government belongs to the people – not to the government.”
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