The Palisades Democratic Club kicked off the New Year on January 3 with an appearance by Congressman Henry Waxman. Speaking to a full house, Waxman, perched on a footstool in order to reach the microphone (he’s 5’ 5’’), joked that his presentation was already “an uplifting experience.” Then he got down to the serious issues of recent legislation and President Obama’s track record in his first year as President.
“The first year of the Obama administration is not yet finished,” Waxman observed, in an implicit answer to critics of the President’s and Congress’s actions.
He explained that he had been concentrating on two issues—energy and health—as chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. During the past year, the Waxman-Markey Energy bill, with its three objectives—reducing dependence on foreign oil, reducing carbon emissions, and developing new energy technologies—managed to clear the House, despite roadblocks put up by conservatives. Waxman credited the bill’s passage especially to the efforts of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “She’s tough,” he remarked. “Under that velvet glove she’s got steel.”
The House and Senate health care bills, said Waxman, are also a significant accomplishment of the early Obama Presidency. Of the House bill, which will provide coverage for over 36 million Americans, he noted: “Is it perfect? No. But Medicare and Social Security were built upon–added to over the years. It will be the case also with this legislation.”
Waxman listed other projects and goals that have been or are being worked on by Obama and Congress. These include reform of financial institutions, a food safety bill, FDA regulation, and an economic stimulus package.
“I have a lot of respect for Obama,” he concluded. “Whether I agree with him or not, he’s trying to do the best he can. But it’s tough when you have the kind of hand he inherited.”
Questions from the audience had been submitted on cards and selected questions were read out loud by a Democratic Club officer.
On health care: Why didn’t Waxman support the alternative bill proposed by John Conyers or the amendments proposed by Dennis Kucinich?
“If you think we had a tough time getting up the hill with [the legislation passed], with Conyers’ or any other single-payer bill, it’s very difficult to make that change,” replied Waxman. “The President didn’t want to scare people.” Unfortunately, he noted, the single-payer option is regarded as too radical by most Americans at this point.
In regard to Obama’s use of troops in Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East, Waxman said he was “very skeptical” of these plans and that America really could not afford to get involved in wars.
In regard to the use of 16 acres at the Veteran’s Administration that have been proposed to be used as a public park, he said that the land is protected legally for use only for veteran’s projects. And on the issue of pollution and safety at Santa Monica Airport, he was hopeful that the new administration’s FAA would be more amenable to working with the community to solve these problems.
“It’s been the most challenging year I’ve had,” Waxman remarked. “But I think we will see some important changes accomplished.”
Lynne Bronstein * [email protected]