Henry Waxman’s Moment

HENRY WAXMAN’S MOMENT…. Late last week, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee reached an agreement on a bill that represents Congress’s first serious attempt to wrestle with climate change. Among other things, it seeks to create a cap-and-trade system that would limit the amount of greenhouse gases industries could emit, reducing America’s carbon emissions by 17 percent over the next decade.

But the bill has a long road to travel before it becomes law. While the Obama administration has supported the legislation, it has higher priorities this year, and getting together enough votes for cap and trade in the Senate — where Republicans are almost unanimously opposed and many centrist Democrats remain skeptical — will be a tall order.

But if there’s a reason for supporters of climate change legislation to not be concerned about this, it is the man in charge of guiding the House bill through Congress: Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and the committee chairman. In the May/June issue of the Washington Monthly, Charles Homans looks at Waxman’s record as a legislator, which includes decades of battles against the tobacco industry, a surprising series of health care expansions under the Reagan administration, and, most significantly, a decade-long fight to expand the Clean Air Act.

In fact, Homans writes, most of Waxman’s accomplishments have been like the battle over cap and trade: struggles that lasted longer — sometimes much longer — than a single session of Congress, and were won largely based on the congressman’s ability to outlast and outflank the opposition. The bid to regulate climate change is the most daunting assignment Waxman has faced — but it is one for which he has been preparing his entire career.

Read Homans’s profile of Waxman, “Marathon Man.”