Tuesday, 19 May 2009

'Tougher than a boiled owl'

Californian Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman has been making headlines in the US for three decades, but he’s about to become a global figure; as Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he’s responsible for shepherding Obama’s first major piece of environmental legislation – the American Clean Energy and Security Bill – through the House of Representatives. The most recent leaks (as reported in the Guardian) indicate that the bill will propose a 17 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020; green groups are arguing about whether this is a hopeful prelude to December’s climate meetings in Copenhagen, or a sell-out.

Representing the most glitzy district in Congress - including Malibu, Hollywood and Beverly Hills - Waxman is one of the most powerful figures in the House, and has had a hyperactive legislative career; his office walls are covered with the framed ceremonial pens that successive presidents have used to sign his bills into law. He is strongly pro-choice,  pro-universal health insurance, pro-gun control and pro-social security. James Purnell probably regards him as a dangerous radical. Concerned about green issues long before it was fashionable, he introduced his first climate bill in 1992, and has been campaigning on the issue ever since. His doggedness is legendary. A tearful-sounding Republican once told the National Review: ‘it’s the Ho Chi Minh approach. If [victory’s] not in the first year, it’s in the fifth.’ 

He has been involved in other glorious campaigns over the years – not least his discovery, as Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, that 363 tons of shrink-wrapped cash bundles had gone ‘missing’ in Iraq – but his most fabled coup was in 1994, when he got the chief executives of seven tobacco companies to swear under oath that nicotine isn’t addictive, paving the way for the success of the multi-billion dollar lawsuit that followed.

Waxman is close to Speaker Pelosi and Obama himself; the President poached Waxman’s long-serving Chief of Staff Phil Schiliro to run his Congressional liaison office, and several other Waxman staffers have also taken up jobs with the new administration, widening the Congressman’s influence across Washington. Let’s hope he continues to use his superpowers for good.