Waxman Retires

It was a bit startling to us old folks when George Miller announced his retirement from the House at the end of this year. Had he really first been elected 40 years ago? Would it be possible to talk about education policy without the feeling he ought to be in the room?

But now Miller’s Class of ’74 colleague Henry Waxman is hanging it up, too, and it’s impossible to avoid the cliché that “it’s the end of an era.”

As a legislative craftsman, Waxman was sort of a rumpled, uncharismatic 5-foot-5-inch version of Ted Kennedy, and the comparison might actually slight (no pun intended) the Californian. There’s hardly any significant health or environmental legislation enacted during his long tenure in the House that doesn’t have his fingerprints all over it. But personally, I’ll always identify Waxman with his long, heroic effort to turn the twisted and inadequate federal-state Medicaid program into something that actually served as a safety net, particularly for kids. I’m sure the Affordable Care Act, and particularly its Medicaid expansion, were especially sweet accomplishments for Waxman.

It’s not overdramatic to say that a lot of Waxman’s legislative legacy is now endangered; if the kind of men who run the U.S. House gain total power in Washington, the rock could well roll down the hill all the way to 1974. But that’s somebody else’s problem now. It would be difficult to expect more of Henry Waxman than what he delivered, time and time again.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.