Rep. Waxman brings robust oversight to new leadership role

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 11/26/2008

Rep. Henry Waxman didn’t pull many punches as chairman of the U.S. House Oversight Committee, and his recent narrow victory in a bid to chair the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee has raised eyebrows.

Waxman, D-CA, was elected this past week by a margin of three votes to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, unseating John Dingell, D-MI, who has served since 1955.

“It’s a big deal,” said Mike Joyce, legislative affairs director for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association in Washington D.C. “Dingell is the most senior representative in the House of Representatives. They really bucked the whole seniority thing.”

Waxman’s victory signals the growing political tide of environmentalism and likely future emissions cutting, Joyce said. It’s speculated that even though she didn’t do it publicly, Waxman was supported for the new position by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, a strong proponent of climate change regulation, while Dingell was backed by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD.

Joyce said many in Washington, DC, are speculating that President-elect Barack Obama doesn’t want to over-aggressively pursue environmental regulations so as to not spur a 1994-like backlash against Democrats.

“I think the Obama people are very conscious of that and are aware that they don’t want to overreach,” Joyce told Land Line. “There have been some rumors that the Obama folks have sort of told the environmentalists, the hard-left folks, to relax a little bit. That, yes, they’ve got the White House, and the Democrats have a larger margin in the House and the Senate. But, remember, a lot of those seats the Democrats picked up went for President Bush in 2004. They are moderate democrats that have those seats.”

Beltway insiders may have difficulty envisioning Waxman relaxing.

Waxman used his pulpit as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to question a host of elected officials, federal agencies and major industry players. He brought a fired-up attitude to House Oversight Committee hearings in a style that sparked off news releases.

Waxman even questioned several major professional sport leagues on the issue of steroid use. After pitcher Roger Clemens was quoted as allegedly threatening a witness in the baseball steroid investigation, Waxman wrote Clemens’ attorney Rusty Hardin a letter telling him, “As a witness in our independent investigation, it is not your client’s prerogative to dictate who attends or does not attend the hearing.”

In fall 2007, Waxman took a tough stand withTransportation Secretary Mary Peters when it was discovered that some top DOT officials had lobbied several states to oppose California’s request for an EPA waiver to enforce new greenhouse gas emission standards.

Several e-mails Waxman obtained between DOT officials included phrases such as “we are a bit concerned … appears to sound more like lobbying … looking back, I may have said more that I should have,” and “the last e-mail isn’t a good conversation for e-mail.”

“This involvement should be transparent and based on the merits,” Waxman wrote then. “If Secretary Peters has concerns about whether California’s application meets the legal standards set forth in the Clean Air Act, she should submit comments to EPA making her case. Instead of taking this action, however, she apparently sought and received White House approval to use taxpayer funds to mount a lobbying campaign designed to inject political considerations into the decision.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer
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