# John Dingell

High-risk play by Braley yields big reward for Iowa

Representative Bruce Braley was an active and vocal supporter of Henry Waxman’s effort to replace John Dingell as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It was risky for a second-term member of Congress to speak out against someone as powerful as Dingell. At the time, many people (myself included) believed Waxman would not win the Democratic caucus vote.

Now Braley has gained a spot on Waxman’s committee:

The appointment, announced Thursday, to what is considered one of the House’s most coveted committees points to a quick rise for the Waterloo lawyer entering just his second term.

It also amplifies Iowans’ voice regarding a vast spectrum of federal economic policy during stormy times.

“Every state wants someone from their delegation on the committee, and having Congressman Braley on this committee is a positive thing for the state so that the state’s interests are reflected in the deliberations of the committee,” said Tom Tauke, a former Republican congressman who served on the committee prior to leaving office in 1991. […]

The committee is the first stop in the House for such nationally significant legislation as the comprehensive health care reform that Obama discussed Thursday. It will also be the entry point for the new administration’s priority of increasing renewable energy and reducing global warming.

The committee will consider the wind-energy tax credit next year. The tax credit, expected to be renewed for seven years, has been a boon to Iowa, one of the nation’s leaders in wind-generated electricity.

I expect good things to come out of Energy and Commerce under Waxman’s leadership, and having an Iowan on that committee is a nice bonus.

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CATO reveals the GOP's dirty little secret on health care

Jed L brought something remarkable to my attention over the weekend.

Michael Cannon of the conservative CATO Institute wrote a piece called Blocking Obama’s Health Plan Is Key to the GOP’s Survival. The idea is that if Obama gets universal health care passed, he will bring “reluctant voters” into the Democratic coalition. The Republicans must at all costs provent that from happening.

David Sirota and TomP both pointed out that conservative pundit William Kristol made the same case to Congressional Republicans during Bill Clinton’s first term. At first, some were afraid to be seen as obstructing the president’s health care reform efforts. But in December 1993,

Leading conservative operative William Kristol privately circulates a strategy document to Republicans in Congress. Kristol writes that congressional Republicans should work to “kill” — not amend — the Clinton plan because it presents a real danger to the Republican future: Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party. Nearly a full year before Republicans will unite behind the “Contract With America,” Kristol has provided the rationale and the steel for them to achieve their aims of winning control of Congress and becoming America’s majority party. Killing health care will serve both ends. The timing of the memo dovetails with a growing private consensus among Republicans that all-out opposition to the Clinton plan is in their best political interest. Until the memo surfaces, most opponents prefer behind-the-scenes warfare largely shielded from public view. The boldness of Kristol’s strategy signals a new turn in the battle. Not only is it politically acceptable to criticize the Clinton plan on policy grounds, it is also politically advantageous. By the end of 1993, blocking reform poses little risk as the public becomes increasingly fearful of what it has heard about the Clinton plan.

Getting back to Cannon’s recent piece for CATO, I am struck by how conservatives don’t even believe their own propaganda about the horrors of “socialized medicine.” Yes, I know that Obama isn’t proposing socialized medicine (which would work like the Veterans Administration, where the government employs the doctors and runs the hospitals), or even single-payer health care (as in Medicare, where patients choose the doctor but the government pays the bill). But for the moment, let’s accept CATO’s frame on this issue, which is that Obama’s health plan would turn into socialized medicine.

Obama’s plan would presumably allow Americans to buy into a state-run health insurance plan as an alternative to private health insurance, and would prohibit insurers from excluding people with pre-existing conditions. These measures would force the insurance companies to compete for customers by offering better coverage, as opposed to the current system, in which they try to maximize profits by denying care whenever possible, and sometimes refusing to insure people for any price.

I have a friend with a thyroid condition. At one point her husband was between jobs and they looked into buying their own health insurance. They could not find any company that would take their family. It wasn’t a matter of excluding coverage for anything related to my friend’s thyroid condition. They simply declined to sell insurance to this family at any cost. Fortunately, my friend’s husband got a job with good benefits. Otherwise, they would be uninsured to this day.

The benefit of giving families like my friend’s the option of buying into state-run insurance program is obvious. But let’s assume that conservatives are right, and that any state-run insurance scheme is bound to be expensive and inefficient. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it fail in the marketplace?

Obama’s health care plan could evolve in the direction of single-payer health care only if the government insurance plan provided superior coverage to consumers at a lower cost. CATO shouldn’t be worried about this, right?

Let’s go a step further. Conservative pundits are trying to tell us that Democratic health care proposals would be disastrous for the country and wreck the economy. If that’s true, then why is a CATO analyst worried that enacting Obama’s health care plan would cause a political realignment in the Democrats’ favor?

Cannon’s argument is also shocking on a moral level. He appears to believe that Obama’s health care plan would improve so many Americans’ lives that the GOP’s survival would be threatened. So, he urges Republicans to put their own political interests ahead of the interests of Americans currently lacking adequate health care.

Jed L thinks

Cannon has everything backwards: the GOP’s survival depends on Republicans being part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

I have to admit that here I agree more with Cannon. Republicans would not get much credit for helping to pass Obama’s universal health care plan. Everyone would know it was a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress who delivered on that promise.

Obstruction with the goal of making Obama look like an ineffective leader in tough economic times is probably the Republicans’ best hope of making political gains.

I am cautiously optimistic that Congress will be more open to adopting Obama’s agenda than the Democratic-controlled Congress was for Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1994. We’ve got at least two things going for us: Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary will be Tom Daschle, who knows the inner workings of Congress, and Henry Waxman (not John Dingell) will be running the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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Braley was a strong supporter of Waxman

One of the most encouraging post-election developments was the House Democratic caucus’s vote yesterday to put Representative Henry Waxman in charge of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

It turns out that Iowa’s own Bruce Braley was a strong advocate for Waxman:

Waxman was generally respectful of [John] Dingell in his speech before the caucus, according to people who were in the room, but he took a few sharp jabs at the chairman. Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, who gave one of Waxman’s nominating speeches, went a step further, lashing out at Dingell for standing in the way of environmental reforms. He even complained that the speaker had to go around him to enact a renewable energy bill during the Democrats’ first year in power.

It’s important to note that just a week ago, Dingell was widely expected to hold on to the powerful committee chairmanship. Reid Wilson of Politics Nation blog observed,

Politics Nation is told Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, just elected to his second term, made an impassioned speech on Waxman’s behalf, blaming Dingell for blocking progress on a number of bills. Braley has been involved in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, co-chairing the Frontline program, but it’s still unusual to see such a junior member of congress question a more senior member, especially one who was serving his second term in Congress when Braley was born.

Braley took a big risk for a good cause, and progressives should thank him for that.

Some of Dingell’s supporters seemed to value Congressional protocol more than getting the job done under a new president. Here’s Representative Charles Rangel, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee:

“I have enjoyed the seniority system,” Rangel said. “It wasn’t broken.”

Actually, the system was broken if the narrow interests of Michigan manufacturers were repeatedly allowed to block legislation that’s in the national interest. Waxman’s primary goal was not to destroy the seniority system. If Dingell hadn’t been standing in the way of good environmental and energy policies for so many years, this challenge never would have happened.

This report from The Hill is worth reading in full, but here’s an excerpt:

And supporters of a more aggressive approach to climate change and more aggressive regulation were encouraged. Dingell was a chief advocate of automakers and was slow to warm up to Pelosi’s call for restrictions to limit climate change.

“I think it will be easier,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said of global warming restrictions. “I think anyone who’s watched the last couple of years would conclude it will happen more quickly and more smoothly. [Waxman] is better positioned to guide that.”

Supporters also said they wanted swifter implementation of the agenda of the Democratic Party and Obama.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), a Waxman ally for years, said Waxman supporters were mindful of 1993 and 1994 when Democrats controlled Congress and the White House for two years, then lost Congress in a dramatic fashion.

“The memory of ’93 and ’94 was seared into our minds,” Berman said. “We have to pass the program. The question was how that could best be done.”

I couldn’t agree more on both the substance and the politics of this decision.

The Hill also reported that the conservative Blue Dogs are very upset by yesterday’s vote, which they view as a “California takeover.” It does not mention Congressman Leonard Boswell, who is a member of the Blue Dog group.

I contacted the offices of Boswell and Representatives Dave Loebsack to inquire about their position on Waxman v. Dingell. I have not yet heard back from Loebsack’s press secretary. Boswell’s press secretary cut me off without letting me finish my question and refused to call me back, as usual.

I do find it amusing that Boswell’s press secretary in Washington still freezes me out. Even at the height of the third district primary battle, the press secretary from Boswell’s Congressional campaign headquarters in Des Moines had no problem sending me press releases and responding to my queries.  

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The odds in favor of a good climate change bill just improved

An earthquake hit Capitol Hill today, as the House Democratic caucus voted 137 to 122 to make Representative Henry Waxman of California chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He will replace Representative John Dingell of Michigan, who has served in the House for more than 50 years (after his father represented the same district for more than two decades).

Dingell has been the top Democrat on the panel for 28 years and is an old-school supporter of the auto industry. Waxman has complained that the committee has been too slow to address environmental issues like global warming.

“The argument we made was that we needed a change for the committee to have the leadership that will work with this administration and members in both the House and the Senate in order to get important issues passed in health care, environmental protection, in energy policy,” Waxman said after the vote.

“The next two years are critical,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who spoke on Waxman’s behalf in the closed-door caucus. “It’s not personal. It’s about the American people demanding that we embrace change and work with the president on critical issues of climate change and energy and health care.”

This is more important than the Senate Democrats caving to Joe Lieberman on Tuesday.

It’s an excellent sign that the new Congress will be serious about progressive change. I had read yesterday that freshman Democrats were overwhelmingly for Waxman, while the Blue Dogs and Congressional Black Caucus were mostly for Dingell.

It’s unfortunate that Dingell has spent several decades trying to shield the big three American automakers from government regulation on fuel efficiency and other matters. If he had not “protected” them for so long, maybe U.S.-made cars would be more desirable for more consumers, and the automakers would not be on the brink of bankruptcy.

Of course, our employer-based health care system is another major drag on American manufacturers. With any luck we will be able to help uninsured Americans and major industry at the same time by passing universal health care reform.

Congratulations to Waxman for taking the first step in what will no doubt be a long slog.

UPDATE: A Siegel is encouraged by Obama’s speech to the recent bipartisan governors’ summit on climate change. Click the link for more details and the text of the speech.

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