Rep. Henry WaxmanHenry Arnold WaxmanFDA lets vaping flourish as it eyes crackdown on cigarettes So-called ‘Dem’ ethanol bill has it all wrong Overnight Health Care: CEO of insurer lobby group stepping down | SEC charges Theranos founder with 'massive fraud' | Abortion fight holds up health deal MORE (D-Calif.), named by his Democratic colleagues Thursday as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said that his new post is important because of his party's increased power and the challenges the country faces.

"We are at a unique moment in history," Waxman told reporters after Democratic House members chose him over the committee's former chairman, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).

Waxman added: "We have an opportunity that maybe comes only once in a generation. And I think that the Democratic Caucus agreed with me that we must meet that challenge and move forward on those important policies."

Waxman compared to the current situation, with Democrats controlling Congress and the White House, to past ones when Democrats were able to move legislation.

"We have a unique opportunity. And we may well turn out to be as historical as the Congress was in 1933," he said. "What I don't want to see happen is the Congress end up the way we were in 1994, without success. I feel confident we're going to have the success we need."

Waxman continued: "The American people are hurting all around this country. They're demanding change. They're demanding action. And we must live up to their expectations."

Waxman defeated Dingell, who is considered more centrist and friendlier to business interests, in a 137-122 vote.