'I haven't had time to look back'

“You know, it’s funny. People think that moderates are the sort of squishy types that don’t have the backbone to take a tough position,” former Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.) mused during an interview on his 54th birthday.

“I think exactly the opposite. I think that the more comfortable thing to do is to live on the wings of the political spectrum because, out there, you don’t have to listen to the other guy,” he said. “You can almost dehumanize him.”

patrick g. ryan
Former Rep. Jim Greenwood: “I think that the moderates in Congress play a critical role — to some extent, to save the party from itself.”

Greenwood earned a reputation as a levelheaded centrist with a track record of bringing people together during 12 years representing a traditionally centrist Republican district outside of Philadelphia. He retired after the 108th Congress to take over as president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

At BIO headquarters May 4, Greenwood described his role as a former congressional dealmaker at a time when many lament Washington has become intransigently partisan.

“Being one of the moderates was a reason to stay, not a reason to go,” Greenwood insisted. “I think that the moderates in Congress play a critical role — to some extent, to save the party from itself.”

BIO’s interest surprised him and he initially had no intention to leave Congress, he said. Greenwood eventually was won over by the opportunity to be at the forefront of what he calls “the biotechnology century.”

Greenwood predicted that biotech is “going to be the most transformational endeavor in human history.”

In fact, he said, the BIO presidency is the only job in Washington for which he would have walked away from Congress.

Representing companies and researchers on the vanguard of science is the next logical step in his career, Greenwood said.

“It was consistent with a promise that I made myself when I was in college … to devote my livelihood to things that would help save the world,” he said.

“I think I was somewhat typical of the baby-boom generation” in that respect, he remarked.

Greenwood joined BIO in January and said, “I really haven’t had much time to look back” and reminisce about Congress.

He is crystal clear about what he does not miss: fundraising, campaigning and long workweeks.

“The glorious thing is that my weekends are actually mine now. That’s maybe the biggest difference of all. I get home Friday night [and] I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to,” he said.

Even so, settling into the BIO presidency has meant a lot of travel and a lot of time at the office. “The ironic part is I’m spending more time in Washington now than I did when I was in Congress” and making fewer trips home to Pennsylvania.

There is one perk that he already pines for: “I think I’ve probably had my last trip on Air Force One,” he said. “The White House told me that I held the record in the Congress for trips on Air Force One with the president,” especially because of President Bush’s frequent trips to Pennsylvania during the 2004 election campaign.

Greenwood said he also misses “some of the camaraderie that I had with some of my closer friends,” such as Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Mike Castle (R-Del.), Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.).

Boehlert identified what might be Greenwood’s strongest asset: “He’s got a sterling quality, and that’s likeability.”

Greenwood’s personality probably was a major factor in his ascension within the GOP caucus. He is outside the mainstream of his party on a plethora of issues, such as abortion, gun control and the environment, he conceded.

“It’s always been difficult … to be a Republican who gets better marks from the Sierra Club than from the [National Rifle Association] and better marks from Planned Parenthood than from the Christian Coalition,” he quipped.

Nevertheless, Greenwood enjoyed a rewarding tenure that was highlighted by his chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s powerful Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee. Greenwood said he expected to be offered the Health Subcommittee chair for the 109th Congress.

However, some lobbyists and aides questioned whether he would get the health gavel, pointing out his support of abortion rights.

“I would have,” Greenwood maintained, noting that he had seniority over current subcommittee Chairman Nathan Deal (R-Ga.).

Even though he bucked party leaders, Greenwood let them know where he stood.

“It was important not to sandbag leadership,” said Greenwood.

The centrist Boehlert agreed, saying Greenwood always “deals from the top of the deck. … The Congress is lesser for him not being there.”

The key to compromise was to “discuss it early and see if we can find a way to accommodate both sides,” he added. “The problem with Congress is that there isn’t much of that.”
At the behest of the leadership, “I frequently played the role of the conciliator between some of the moderates and some of the conservatives,” he said.

Despite his differences with the GOP, Greenwood said, he strongly identifies with the party and has lifelong ties that are both personal and philosophical.

He was raised in a GOP household, but his political coming of age was sparked by something entirely unrelated to policy or ideology.

“When I was a senior at Council Rock [High School], I had a political science class about which I remember nothing except that there was a young lady [who] caught my eye,” Greenwood said.

He began dating that young lady, Ann, whose father was John Renninger, a Republican state representative who became Greenwood’s political mentor.

Greenwood worked part time for Renninger for four years and, at 25, managed his unsuccessful campaign against Democrat Peter Kostmayer for an open U.S. House seat. Greenwood then served in the state Legislature from 1980 until he unseated Kostmayer in 1992.

The story of Greenwood and Ann turned out differently, but he met his future wife, Christina, in 1977. They married in 1984 and have raised three children: Robert, 34; Laura, 19; and Kathryn, 18.

His political philosophy, too, was strengthened in an unexpected setting: social work. Greenwood acknowledged that “social worker” and “Republican” are terms not often found in close proximity. To him, though, the connection is clear.

“One of the things I learned right off the bat early on was that doing everything for my clients wasn’t really helpful, and that what was helpful was teaching them to become self-reliant,” said Greenwood.

“That’s a pretty Republican way of looking at social programs,” he remarked. He took a similar approach to Congress. “I just sort of wanted to go fix things,” he said.

Other members were not the only people against whom Greenwood faced off and with whom he brokered deals. The broad jurisdiction and high visibility of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee provided him with an independent platform to pursue his interests. The subcommittee was the place where he undertook “probably the most rewarding work that I did in Congress,” he said.

Unlike the difficult negotiations Greenwood needed to move legislation, he could go his own way with the subcommittee. “An investigation has a beginning, a middle and an end, most of which you can control” without worrying about winning majorities, he said.

Greenwood’s investigations of corporate accounting scandals were highpoints. Unlike some of his GOP colleagues, he made the political calculation, he said, that Republicans needed to go after big business when it did wrong. The investigations contributed to the drive toward adoption of the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance bill.

At BIO, he has come to feel that it may be time to revisit the law. Some of the requirements are costly and burdensome “without necessarily producing much in the way of benefit,” he said.

Greenwood will be working closely with former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) who is president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

In one aspect, Greenwood acknowledges his job is easier than Tauzin’s. “The pharmaceutical industry has had a lot of black eyes, and biotechnology is still fortunate enough to be very highly regarded,” he said.

BIO also is aggressively lobbying for relaxed restrictions on federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research. The House is slated to take up legislation today that Greenwood predicts will pass, but he added that support is not strong enough to override a promised presidential veto.