After Congress, staying in the fight
With chairman of the Energy and Commerce and the Oversight and Reform committees on his résumé, Henry Waxman has a unique perspective on Democrats’ return to power in the House.
But the Democratic lawmaker-turned-lobbyist from California says he’s never stopped fighting for causes he’s passionate about.
“We represent clients that I feel I want to represent, clients who want us to advocate for them on issues that I would have fought for when I was in Congress itself. So that’s been the main focus of my attention,” the chairman of Waxman Strategies told The Hill.
“There’re a lot of things that I care about, and I’m still trying to work on that policy in a different perspective than I did when I was a member of Congress.”
One of Waxman’s top issues is tackling the high price of drugs. He penned the Hatch-Waxman Act, formally known as the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act, which passed in 1984 to encourage generic drug manufacturing.
Now, he’s working on pushing policy from the outside and thinks he’s found a lane to do so.
“We decided to go through foundations to get funded to work on the issue of high price of drugs,” he said.
Michael Waxman, president and CEO of Waxman Strategies, as well as Henry Waxman’s son, said working alongside foundations allows him and his father to avoid being beholden to corporate interests.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve found foundations who are folks that share our same values and they don’t have a corporate interest, they’re all working in the public interest,” he told The Hill.
Henry Waxman said that is what makes Waxman Strategies unique on K Street — he meets with members on behalf of the public.
“When I’ve gone to the Hill to talk about … some of the options that might be pursued legislatively to hold down the price of drugs, I feel very good to say that I’m not here representing a client. I don’t have a dog in the fight,” he said.
The current Oversight and Reform Committee chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), announced on Monday the panel will be investigating the high prices of prescription drugs, writing to major pharmaceutical companies for information on their practices.
The Waxmans say their work involves both keeping Congress’s focus on the issue as well as helping to suggest solutions.
“What’s unique about my father is he has a chance to go up to the Hill and to talk about issues and build upon legislation that he helped write and he was the go-to source for information and to move legislation,” Michael Waxman said.
The elder Waxman was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 2009 to 2011 and welcomes his party’s new progressive approach to combatting climate change, called the Green New Deal. He touted freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as a leader in the effort.
“It’s a very interesting strategy because we’ve tried, through the legislative process, to address the issue and it’s so difficult, if not impossible, to foresee getting some legislative solutions on a bipartisan basis for the overall problem of climate change,” Waxman said. “So, let’s go back to basics. Let’s educate the public. Let’s get them aroused. Let’s get them to demand legislation.”
He likened the strategy to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s approach to fixing the Great Depression.
“I don’t think they’ve figured out their full approach yet, but Franklin Roosevelt hadn’t figured out his approach to the New Deal when he got it started,” Waxman said. “He was faced with a crisis of the economy. We’re facing a huge crisis of the atmosphere that we share on this planet.”
In an op-ed penned for The Atlantic in December, Waxman said passage of the Green New Deal in its entirety seems unlikely, but he told The Hill this month that his No. 1 priority for 2019 is to get elected officials to “feel the pressure to deal with climate change.”
The former Oversight and Reform Committee chair says that panel’s work is some of the most important on Capitol Hill, particularly when divided government leads to a legislative logjam.
“Coming from an oversight perspective, I think oversight is as important a function of the Congress, if not more important, than legislation, especially in times when it may be too difficult to pass legislation,” Waxman said.
He says he’ll be watching closely how House Democrats deal with the Trump administration and its multiple ongoing scandals.
“As far as President Trump himself, I don’t think oversight ought to be to get Trump, not to be done as a partisan strategy, which is what the Republicans engaged in in their oversight efforts and failed because they were so clearly not credible and essentially using congressional oversight for their partisan purposes,” the former congressman said.
Waxman is also passionate about oversight of the administration because of his work for environmental protections.
“If you care about the environment, you have to talk about approaches to huge environmental issues like climate change, but you also have to ask questions, like what’s happened with the Environmental Protection Agency?” he said. “It’s not mutually exclusive to look at the EPA and the Trump administration.”
He said the agency was corrupted by former Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned in July amid a slew of ethics and spending controversies. Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, whom Trump has nominated to fill the role full-time, has been a coal industry lobbyist since 2009.
Waxman’s approach to government relations has provided him with more opportunities to create change, he said.
Waxman Strategies says it helps companies write policy and then works through public relations or lobbying efforts to turn those measures into reality.
“If we were just lobbyists, they wouldn’t hire us for that. They’d hire us for who knows who on the Hill. Who can you influence? This Republican or that Democrat? And we have the ability to do that, but we have the ability to do a lot of other things as well,” Waxman said.
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