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Forty years is long enough: that’s what Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Ca.) said when he announced his plans to retire at the end of this year. But the veteran lawmaker says he’s not leaving the Hill because he’s fed up with congressional gridlock. On the contrary, Waxman says he still believes the legislative branch can be a powerful force for good. And his supporters say he’s had a strong hand in that force for good: Congressman Waxman wrote some of the most influential pieces of legislation, including The Clean Air Act and The Affordable Care Act. Rep. Henry Waxman joins Diane in the studio to talk about his long career in Congress and the challenges ahead.
- Representative Henry Waxman 30th District,California chair, the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. After 40 years in Congress, California Congressman, Henry Waxman is retiring. He's the seventh House Democrat to announce his retirement this year, but the congressman says it's not because he's frustrated with gridlock on the Hill. Rather, he still believes the legislative branch can be a force for good. Congressman Waxman joins me to talk about his long career in politics and why he's optimistic about our lawmaking process.
MS. DIANE REHMI hope you'll join me and call us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Congressman, it's good to have you here.
REP. HENRY WAXMANThank you very much. Pleased to be with you.
REHMGood to see you. I know you've said that you're not leaving Congress because of frustration, that you've simply think it's time for you to go after 40 years, time for someone else to take your seat. But at the same time, you did say to the New York Times in late January that you were frustrated because of the extremism of the Tea Party. Say more about that.
WAXMANIt's hard not to be frustrated. We've had extreme group in the Republican Party, the so-called Tea Party members who have controlled now the actions of the Republicans in the House and they look at government as something they abhor. They think compromise is a dirty word. They think working with the Democrats is complicity with the enemy, which, of course, is absurd. We're all Americans. We're trying to do what's good for the American people.
WAXMANWe may have differences of opinions. And it's hard not to be frustrated when we have votes on the House floor over 40, 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act or to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from reducing carbon pollution that causes climate change. But I think we still have a chance, even in this difficult climate to get some things done. It's always hard. It always takes time.
WAXMANAnd I think the Republican Party's going through a civil war, where I don't think they're going to stay the captive of this extreme group for much longer. Republicans have always been the party of business and the business community is saying, wait a minute. You can't just follow an ideology in a mindless way, close down the government, threaten default, just do nothing.
WAXMANSo I think that this is going to change and I know there are Republicans who want to get things done, who are in Congress because they think they have a responsibility to the American people.
REHMI'm sure you're right, but at the same time, do you see any clues that, in fact, the extreme right wing of the Republican Party is diminishing in its power and authority?
WAXMANIn the number of the Republican primaries that have taken place so far this year, the Tea Party members have not prevailed. And for those Republicans who think they have to respond to the Tea Party in order to get through a Republican primary, a lot of them are hearing from the more moderate, real conservative business Republicans that they don't want them to give into this ideology at the expense of getting things accomplished.
WAXMANSo I'm optimistic. I just think that we're going through a difficult time, but I think we've got to keep the long view in our sites.
REHMWhat are you optimistic about?
WAXMANI'm optimistic that this country's had difficult times and that...
REHMIn the past.
WAXMAN...in the past and historically. We had the know-nothings, the first version of them and the American people catch on after awhile. And so I think that if you look at the demographics, if you look at the votes nationally anyway, the Republican Party is digging itself into a hole if they follow the ideologues and the extremists.
REHMYou got seven now, Democrats, saying they're leaving the House. Is there a possibility that Republicans will not only retain the House, but take the Senate?
WAXMANThere's certainly a possibility. I hope that doesn't happen and I don't think I'm ready to concede the election this early in the year because a lot can happen in politics. Even a week can be an eternity before an election. But we, in the House, are facing gerrymandered districts that have given Republicans a huge advantage. We won the popular vote, if you look at all congressional races last time around.
WAXMANDemocrats got more votes than Republicans. But, of course, we elect representatives in a district. And if the district is heavily weighted for Republicans, that has allowed them to hold a majority of the seats. The Senate, on the other hand, is a little different and there this is not the best of years because so many Democratic Senators are running in districts where Obama lost and Mitt Romney won so that's not a good sign.
WAXMANBut people don't always vote the way they did in the last election in the next election. Our biggest fear is turnout. We've got to get Democrats to the polls. We know that. People are working on it. So I refuse to give up and despair over what would happen in November, but realize President Obama is still president and what we face is the fact that Republicans can stop Democrats from getting anything done, but Democrats can stop them as well.
WAXMANAnd at some point, that should lead to a compromise, not to paralysis.
REHMHow did Republicans and, most especially, the Tea Party become as powerful as it did?
WAXMANI don't fully understand it. I think there are stains of anti-government feeling that go all the way back to President Reagan, maybe before, Barry Goldwater. There was an enormous reaction to the fact that we didn't prosecute people before the economic collapse and that we were busy trying to get things moving again, but a lot of the American people thought that we were bailing out Wall Street and forgetting everybody else.
WAXMANAnd so the climate was right for demigogs to say, we don't want the Affordable Care Act. We don't want healthcare for others. We don't want government-run healthcare. And then, of course, on the other hand, they say, and therefore, don't touch my Medicare, which is a government-run healthcare program. So there are a lot of things going on, anger and cultural pulls that have helped the Republicans.
REHMBut, of course, Republicans, as you've said, have voted more than 40 times to repeal the president's affordable healthcare program. They continue to rail against it. They continue to argue. They'll argue against it in the election. What's going to change?
WAXMANI think the thing that is changing is that the law is already in effect. Millions of people are able to get health insurance who couldn't in the past because they were discriminated against by the insurance companies who refused to cover them if they offered a high potential for costing more money. So therefore, if you had preexisting medical conditions, you didn't have a chance to get insurance.
WAXMANAnd if you couldn't afford it, you were just out of luck. Now, we have the Affordable Care Act in place. It's going to help millions of people and not just those who are uninsured, but seniors under Medicare and it's going to help hold down healthcare costs for the whole nation where we spend more for healthcare in this country than anywhere else in the world.
WAXMANIt's not the end. The law is going to evolve, but it's putting us on the right path and we need to make corrections, not talk about repeal.
REHMSome people have speculated that you're not running again because you feared you'd reelection. Any truth to that?
WAXMANI faced a surprise electoral fight last time around where, under California law this last election and now, it's the top two that runoff against each other so I had a Republican who called himself an independent and then spent $7 million, which is an extraordinary amount of money, but he couldn't win. And I felt very confident that I would win reelection, but I know I'd have to go out and raise a lot of money.
WAXMANI wouldn't know whether independent expenditures were going to come in for me or against me. I would probably win. But it just made me think, 40 years is a long time and it's a time when I have to acknowledge that other people ought to step forward and take on these responsibilities. And if I were going to have any kind of life after Congress, this is the time I had to leave.
WAXMANIf I ran for two more years, then people would say, you certainly must run again during a presidential election for two more years after that. So my biological clock is ticking and I do want another act after Congress.
REHMWhat do you think that's going to be?
WAXMANI have no idea. I'm meeting with people, looking at what different people do. I do not want to be a lobbyist.
REHMI knew you were going to say that. I just knew it.
WAXMANA number of academic institutions are interested in me. I could sit down and talk to people about how government works, how Congress operates. I could give them ideas on strategy and I want to pick and choose where and how much time I want to spend.
REHMCongressman Henry Waxman, Democrat of California. He represents California 33rd congressional district. Short break, I look forward to hearing your comments.
REHMAnd here's our first tweet for Congressman Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, who, in January, announced he will not seek re-election after 40 years in Congress. This tweet is from McHale, "What kinds of solutions could solve the gridlock in Congress? It seems almost impossible with the extremism now."
WAXMANI wouldn't give in to the idea it's impossible. We have to keep pushing forward, even in these difficult times we've lived through in the last couple of years. Our committee has accomplished some good public-interest legislation. For example, we've provided for Spectrum Auction to get more ability for handheld devices for communications to operate. At the same time, we'll be using some of those funds for an inoperable system for police and fire and other emergency workers.
WAXMANWe were able to give the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, more authority to track counterfeit drugs. These are worthwhile accomplishments. It's not like Affordable Care Act or what we need to do on climate change, but I see even hope on those areas, since we have the law and effect on healthcare and the president is taking the initiative, since Congress won't help, using existing law to combat climate change. And I think that's tremendously important…
WAXMAN…that he's doing that.
REHM…I find it extremely interesting, the news that the Koch brothers are now going to put a great deal of money into campaigning against solar panels. Can you help me understand why?
WAXMANThe Koch brothers are extreme right-wingers. One of them even ran, I think, against President Reagan in the primary. I believe that to be the case. They didn't consider themselves Republicans, because Republicans were too liberal for them at that time. Now, with their billions, they've decided to take over the Republican Party and they're doing a pretty good job. They're not only driven by ideology, but they're driven by greed.
WAXMANThey have an enormous amount of their money in the fossil fuel industries. They denied, for example, having any involvement with the trans-Canada pipeline, the pipeline where there's a big controversy brewing whether we're going to allow the dirtiest oil sands from Canada, which can pollute the planet, to be given the opportunity to travel through the United States and then be exported in the Gulf to other places.
WAXMANThe Koch brothers are even against solar energy. Solar energy is such a small part of our energy supply, yet the Koch brothers want to smother it. A lot of people are getting their electricity from solar panels that are installed on their roofs. And the way that works is that when their solar panels produce more energy than they can use, more electricity, they sell it back to the utilities because the law requires the utilities to pay them for that electricity at the same price that they would charge them for electricity.
WAXMANSo it's financially advantageous for what we call net metering. So the Koch brothers look at that and say, "Well, that's going to help this industry. Let's stop it. And they're going around the state level to campaign against the laws that allow people to get some financial benefit for using solar energy. But, of course, they don't mind all the subsidies that they get for using oil and coal and some of these dirty fossil fuels. And they have an enormous amount of public subsidy that helps them have competitive advantage.
REHMLet me ask you about that Keystone Pipeline because many are saying if we do not allow for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, that dirty sands oil will be transported by truck or train. Wouldn't that be less advantageous than a pipeline?
WAXMANI don't think they would have enough ability to transport the amount of dirty oil from those facilities to make it as profitable as they would if they had the pipeline. And there's a lot of unhappiness in Canada at the idea of trains having accidents transporting oil that they're not going to want to have a massive amount of oil transported by train. They can't build a pipeline in Canada to go to the Pacific Ocean. That was their argument, that they were going to do that. But their own people won't allow that.
WAXMANSo they just want to use the United States to transport that tar sands oil. It's the dirtiest oil in the world. We don't need it. And it is going to help raise the amount of carbon pollution. And we have also fears about what the pipeline might do, in terms of pipeline accidents. The State Department did an analysis saying, "Oh, it's going to be built anyway." I think that's wrong. I don't think it's going to be built anyway. And if we say no, it may get built to some extent, but they're talking about a massive, multiple increase of the tar sands oil if we give them the pipeline to bring it from Canada.
REHMHave you talked directly with the president about your views?
WAXMANI have not talked to him personally about it, but I've talked to people in the administration. I've written about it. And I think they know my views and I think they know the views of the environmental community, which is an important part of the president's constituency. And the president even said if this adds to the pollution for climate change, the greenhouse gasses, he cannot support it.
WAXMANWell, I think if he looks at the analysis correctly -- the State Department didn't look at what it adds -- not if it were operating -- but what it would add when we start moving to a lower-carbon future. And in that case, the amount of extra carbon that would be added by the Keystone Pipeline is going to be far beyond anything that people are talking about because we shouldn't allow that much extra pollution from these pipelines.
REHMBut isn't it interesting that the State Department did, in its judgment, say the Keystone Pipeline or the construction thereof would not add to climate change.
WAXMANWell, they said it wouldn't add to climate change because it was already going to add to climate change. Because they assumed…
REHMSo it would not add significantly more is what…
WAXMANWell, they said it's going to happen anyway, so therefore -- it's like the argument that we hear from people. Why don't we sell them in another country where we know they're going to use our weapons to hurt their own people? Why don't we sell it to them because somebody else is going to sell it to them? That's basically the argument the State Department's advancing. And I don't accept that argument. Not just on moral grounds, but I don't accept it on economic grounds.
WAXMANI don't think they're going to be able to develop the tar sands industry, triple or four times what they are now talking about, which they could do if they had the pipeline.
REHMDo you have…
WAXMANIf they leave it alone.
REHMDo you have a prediction or even a guess as to what the president's decision will be?
WAXMANWell, he's got a lot of pressures on him. And Canada is an ally. They're putting enormous amount of leverage on the administration.
REHMSo are the environmentalists.
WAXMANAnd so are the environmentalists on the other side and some of the labor unions, who just see jobs and nothing else and don't look beyond short-term jobs that they'll have. The jobs picture is really a distorted one. There are not going to be permanent jobs. There are going to be a few construction jobs while we build the pipeline and then that's it. So I know the president's people are weighing it. The president's aware of it and the decision is supposed to come from John Kerry.
WAXMANAnd I would find it amazing if John Kerry, who's a champion against climate change, would think that it's okay to give the green light for this Keystone Pipeline.
REHMI think Americans may remember you best for your stand against the tobacco companies and the hearings you held back in 1994. I want our listeners to hear a little portion of those hearings.
WAXMANYou and your colleagues seem to have almost a fanatical insistence that your product's the same as all these other products. This morning in your written statement and your oral statement, you compared cigarettes to coffee, tea, sweets, sugar, warm milk, cheese, chocolate and Twinkies. That's quite a list. I'm struck, but what I think is a calculated attempt to trivialize the devastating health impacts of your product. You and I both know that Twinkies don't kill a single American a year.
WAXMANThey may not add to a healthy diet, but they don't kill. The difference between cigarettes and Twinkies and the other products you mentioned is death. And I'm sure you're aware that surgeon general and the American Medical Association estimate that cigarettes kill over 400,000 smokers every year. Putting aside your assertion that people accept this risk willingly, do you agree with this estimate?
MR. JAMES JOHNSTONDo I agree with the estimate of 435,000 people? I've heard from this committee this morning three or four different numbers. My understanding of how that number is derived…
WAXMANIf you don't agree with the number, then give us your number. How many smokers die each year from smoking cigarettes?
JOHNSTONI will explain.
WAXMANNo. I want your answer. We have a limited time.
JOHNSTONI do not know how many. It's a…
WAXMANDo you disagree with the surgeon general's opinion?
JOHNSTONIt is a computer-generated number that makes assumptions that…
WAXMANMr. Johnson, I'm going to have to ask you to respond to my questions. Do you or do you not agree with the surgeon general's estimate of over 400,000 smokers dying each year?
JOHNSTONI do not agree.
WAXMANOkay. Do you know how many die each year?
JOHNSTONI do not know.
REHMAnd that was Congressman Henry Waxman in committed in 1994, putting seven tobacco executives under oath, and then each and every single one of them proceeded to deny that nicotine was addictive. Extraordinary.
WAXMANIt was absolutely remarkable that the CEOs of the companies would come, take an oath to tell the truth and then immediately sit there and lie. "No, cigarettes don't cause any disease. It's coincidental. Nicotine is not addictive. Of course, we would never manipulate the nicotine to keep people smoking. And we never focus our attention on getting kids to smoke," who are too young, even to buy cigarettes, legally anywhere in the United States.
WAXMANThey met, all of them, with their lawyers. They were very careful in the way they phrased their answers, but what they did was give a human face to an industry that so cynically was going after kids and killing people with their product. It's the only product when used as intended that kills people. And keep in mind, when we're frustrated by Congress, it took 15 years after that hearing before we finally got the FDA jurisdiction to regulate tobacco.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Congressman Waxman, the FDA just announced new regulations for e-cigarettes. How important are they? Do they go far enough?
WAXMANIt's very important that we regulate e-cigarettes. The law provided for the FDA to make a determination about new products that were like tobacco. E-cigarettes are a delivery system for nicotine. A lot of kids, very smart, sophisticated young people, think that there's no harm to it because it's not a cigarette. And the manufacturers of e-cigarettes are using all the old strategies that the tobacco industry used to get people to smoke.
WAXMANThey're not barred from advertising on television. They go after kids with free samples. They go to sporting events to make it look cool to smoke their product. I was disappointed in what the FDA announced last week. I want to hear a little bit more from them. But in my view, I used to argue that if cigarettes were just being introduced as a new product, we wouldn't allow it. The only reason we allow it is that so many adults use it and we can't take it away from them, but we need to limit the use to adults and not in public places, and recognize the impact of second-hand smoke.
WAXMANBut here's a product that has just been introduced and widely promoted, that serves no purpose, as far as I can tell, except to deliver an addictive drug that can do a lot of harm. So I would think that FDA should take its position very carefully, that we're only going to allow it under limited circumstances. Instead, they've taken the position we're going to allow it fully, except for some advertising restrictions, while we study what else to do.
WAXMANWell, in the meantime we're going to end up with so many people addicted to it that we'll never be able to get it off the market. I would put an emphasis, as always, on kids. And we ought to immediately say they cannot direct their efforts to get kids to use this product. But I'm very worried that FDA is being a little too timid.
REHMDo you also believe that e-cigarettes are an opening to catching people to smoke other kinds of cigarettes?
WAXMANOf course. The argument that the e-cigarette manufacturers are making is that, "Oh, smokers will switch to e-cigarettes. It's less harmful." Well, it may be less harmful, but they're advertising to get a wide audience of people. They're not advertising just to smokers. They're advertising to the world, and especially children, to start using their product, not to switch to that product.
WAXMANIf it's a device to get away from smoking, then it ought to be a medical device and used in a very limited way, not marketed as a new habit that people ought to get started with because they can have flavored smoke, which is really nicotine that goes right to the brain that gives you that exhilaration that that's what tobacco smoking has always been about.
REHMWell, you say you're somewhat disappointed in the FDA. Lots of folks are concerned about the revolving door of the FDA. Do you think that's part of the problem?
WAXMANI don't know of any evidence of that. And I think the people at the FDA, have very good intentions and want to deal with this. They're worried about how far they can go under the law and whether they need to take their efforts a step at a time. There are allies of mine in the anti-tobacco fights who told me that they think the FDA is doing the right thing. So I want to hear more from them.
WAXMANI was in Los Angeles when I got the news. I talked to Commissioner Hamburg about it. And every time I said, "Can't you do this? Can't you do that?" She said, "Well, we don't think we can." So I want to see if we can get them to do it and if we can give them the authority to do it, if they don't already have it.
REHMCongressman Henry Waxman, Democrat of California. We'll take a short break here. Your calls, your comments when we come back. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd before we go to the phones here's an email from Paul in Florida. He says, "Congressman Waxman recently cosigned a letter from the Energy and Commerce Committee Minority requesting Gilead Pharmaceuticals to justify pricing of its new hepatitis C drug Sovaldi at $1,000 per pill, 84,000 as only part of a combination treatment regimen. Have they given you a satisfactory explanation? If so, what is it?
WAXMANI have not seen a satisfactory response. Their argument is that they've developed this drug. It's a miraculous drug, which it is, and they, under the law, have a monopoly and therefore they can charge whatever they can get away with. That's the attitude of this company but it's the attitude of other pharmaceutical companies as well. The idea that we put in place in 1984 was that we would give even a little bit more period for the manufacturer to recoup their investment by having an exclusivity over their drug. But then we wanted competition through generic drugs. That law's been very successful.
WAXMANWe even gave the drug companies a little bit extra time because they had to go through FDA review to get their drugs approved to be marketed. But there's no self limitation. How can they justify it? They could just say, well we need the money to invest in research. And a lot of drugs don't succeed and this makes up for the losses. But they can't really show that in the numbers because they are not putting the money back into investment in research. They're putting back the money in the highest stock returns and values and more money in promotion pharmaceuticals than they do in research to develop new ones.
WAXMANSo could you imagine somebody who desperately needs this drug to cure hepatitis C and it's an $86,000 course of drug use, $1,000 a pill for six weeks? The payers for the drugs for the most part are going to -- for low income people are going to be Medicaid and has a $2.3 billion record sales of the drug. But a lot of states say they can't afford it. And a lot of individuals know they couldn't possibly afford it. So we're developing miracles that are not available to some of the people who need it the most.
REHMSo what kinds of responses to you expect to get from the pharmaceutical company?
WAXMANTheir response is that they need the money to invest in research. They need the money to make up for the drugs that did not succeed. And they won't let us look at their books. It's their own business. But of course they benefited from the research the taxpayers supported through the National Institutes of Health, which gave them the ability to develop these drugs. Some of the drugs they're now developing and selling at record high prices were drugs that are no longer on a patent. But they're able to get an exclusivity.
WAXMANSo I'm just -- I just think this whole thing is getting way out of hand. I don't have a solution to it. I would wish that the drug companies would recognize that this is an unsustainable situation. They let the insurance companies and the government payers pour out the money to the point where health care costs are going to continue to rise for these pharmaceuticals.
WAXMANAnd a lot of people are going to have to go without.
REHMI'm going to open the phones. First to Richard in Haverhill, Mass. Hi, Richard. You're on the air.
RICHARDYes, thank you, Diane. Congressman Waxman, it's an honor to talk to you. I want to talk about a couple of the issues -- I mean, decisions that the Supreme Court made recently, the last year or two, of course Citizens United and then just recently the McCutcheon decision. Now they know the right wing ideological court or the Roberts Court, they know darn well that's going to advantage the Republicans, number one. Not that the Democrats don't have their cash cows, too, but nothing like the Republicans have.
RICHARDAnd number two, cutting the Voter Rights Act. I am so mad that they did that, it's just unbelievable. The people that died for the right to vote and John Roberts, when he worked in the Reagan Administration Justice Department, he was against Title V and IV even back then. So he got his little chance when he went on to be the state -- I mean, on the justice. And the law wasn't even on the books dry, for god's sake, when the -- all these Republican governors and state legislators are trying to oppress the right to vote. So it just -- I'm so mad about that, it's just unbelievable.
WAXMANI don't blame you. And of course, the justices are -- have argued for a long time in their supporters that it's not the Supreme Court that ought to be making the law. It's the representatives of the people in the legislature in the states or the Congress of the United States along with the president that should be making the laws. And in effect, they're rewriting all these laws through judicial opinion usually on a 5 to 4 basis.
WAXMANAt least we ought to have disclosure of the campaign expenditures so that we know who's putting in this unlimited money. We can't even get that through the congress at this moment. But I think that it's undermining our democracy and it's inexcusable.
REHMAll right. And to Nelson in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi there.
NELSONHi there, thank you. Mr. Waxman, I want to remind you of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas who continues to maintain his position on the Supreme Court in spite of health concerns. He was in a wheelchair and then in a gurney. He attended everything. He knew how important it was for him to keep his position and the effects of it. I'm asking out of all you Democrats out there who are thinking of retiring for maybe not really serious reasons.
NELSONAlso I'd like to tell you that the station you're on is probably the only entity in the United States right now that would be trusted as not totally biased and prejudice for the right wing or Republican point of view. This station -- I've been recording this for five years now -- this station covers Republicans 11 times more than they do Democrats. And this is the only source I've even perceived nonbiased presentation of facts.
REHMAll right. I thank you for those comments. Congressman Waxman.
WAXMANWell, I agree with you that public radio, public television is essential for us to do what all news shows should be doing, and that's giving us the facts, giving us information. Now we have Fox giving a right tilt and MSNBC giving a left tilt. It's like European newspapers where they don’t report the news as much as they promote their ideological or their party positions.
WAXMANSo Senator Moynihan used to say, we can disagree on our opinions but we shouldn't disagree on the facts. But in this country we don't even have an understanding of the facts upon which to make our decisions.
REHMI agree with that. It's hard to -- hard for the average citizen who tries very, very diligently to keep up. I mean, when you hear one opinion which is totally this way, one opinion totally that way about the same subject, what do you sway to that listener or that reader or that watcher, hot to make a good decision?
WAXMANIt's very difficult. There's a distain -- a widespread distain for credibility for honesty. People, I hear in congress particularly but elsewhere, making statements that they must know are not true. But it helps them politically.
REHMGive me an example.
WAXMANThe consensus overwhelmingly is that climate change is happening and it's a threat to our planet. And that manmade pollution is contributing to it and is going to continue to do harm if we don't lower the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So we have people who say, oh science is just another political opinion. I don't believe in the science. Or if it's happening, it's happening because these things happen and there's nothing to worry about.
WAXMANIt's just quite amazing whether they really believe that or not but science is based on evidence and facts. And people think that reaching decisions based on evidence is somehow illegitimate.
WAXMANSuspect is a better word.
REHMLet's go to Jeff in Chapel Hill, N.C. You're on the air.
JEFFThank you, Diane. And Congressman Waxman, I disagree with most of your opinions but I want to thank you for your 40 years of service to your country.
JEFFVery admirable. Two quick questions and I'll hand up and listen. The first one is, in terms of when you were referring earlier to the impact that the left -- or the right wing has had on the Republican Party in terms of the infighting and the civil war maybe that's even happening a little bit, can you talk a little bit as objective as you can about the impact of George Soros and the left wing of the Democratic Party, all right.
JEFFAnd then separately, the one comment I would ask you to say about your peer is this phrase that Nancy Pelosi made way back when, when she said, we have to have passed the bill to see what's in the bill, one of the most damning statements a Democrat has ever said.
WAXMANI don't know whether she said that or not but it's certainly been blown out of proportion. We never had to pass it to see what would happen. She's had so many interviews and I doubt that she said that in a way that indicated what that phrase would suggest, that we didn't really know what was in the bill or how it would work. This is a bill that had a lot of scrutiny, many, many hearings, reviews by outside experts as well as prominent government agencies.
WAXMANIn terms of -- look, every party represents constituents. And you have to be mindful of your constituents. I have to be mindful of my constituents back home. And so you just have to put that in perspective. But you can't be owned and dominated by any one group or wealthy individual. Labor unions have always been an important part of the Democratic Party constituency. And therefore Democrats will pay more attention to what labor has to say on an issue than Republicans will.
WAXMANBut it's ridiculous not to hear what people have to say and evaluate the content and arguments that they're making.
REHMWould you equate the power of the money George Soros puts into Democratic campaigns, Democratic issues with what the Koch Brothers are putting into all sorts of campaigns and ideas?
WAXMANI think that someone like George Soros or Tom Steyer, who's very involved now in supporting candidates who care about the climate change issue, are fighting for positions that they believe in. And the Koch Brothers are fighting for positions that they not only believe in but that are going to financially benefit them. There's an economic aside to their point of view that's benefiting them. They're making, you know, a self serving argument. And people ought to understand that, not that it's improper to make it but we ought to put it in perspective.
WAXMANSo when you hear what these individuals have to say, even if they are on your side of the aisle, you have to -- even George Soros who's argued positions that I support, hasn't been able to get his way. For example, he's argued that in order to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic we ought to have needle exchanges so that we don't have sharing of needles which transmits the disease. And it's been very controversial. Some place have tried it and it's worked but that's not enough for other places to follow that example.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's see, a caller in Mexico City, Steven, you're on the air.
STEVENOh, good morning, Diane. And thank you very much for your program. I've been a fan of yours for quite a few years.
STEVENAnd Mr. Waxman, I want to thank you, too. I was the economic counselor in Kuwait from 2003 to 2006. During that period of time your staff and your good name, frankly, aided us in quite a savings in the Iraqi Mentoring Fuels Program. To give you a couple of rough numbers, DynCorp Corporation returned cash, $400,000 in overcharges, KVR 61 million cash in overcharges. Three KVR employees returned 6.2 million cash in bribes they'd accepted. We rewrote the Iraqi Humanitarian Fuels Program so the contracts were 90 days instead of 30 days in length and save the American taxpayer over a million dollars a day.
STEVENIn totals, over $300 million in savings on one program for the assistance program to Iraq. But none of that would've happened, none of it, without the assistance of your staffers and quite frankly the threat of you personally getting involved in the problem. So the question I have for you, sir, is who do we go to in the future when we have that type of a difficulty? Who in congress can we go to to request their assistance?
WAXMANI'm pleased that our investigations of the waste fraud and abuse of taxpayers' money made an impact. I was just astonished at the huge amount of money thrown away, taxpayers' dollars thrown away, wasted in the Iraq and Afghanistan efforts. And with government procurements, Halliburton getting a no-bid contract at cost plus so they had an incentive to increase their costs. Just overwhelming evidence of insider dealings.
WAXMANSo I think that there'll be others in congress but there are inspectors -- inspector generals of the Defense Department, others that have that responsibility to make sure that taxpayers' dollars are being used wisely and not wasted.
REHMAnd finally we had many emails like this one from Judy in Virginia. "One voice, from so many in the country, who have such respect for Congressman Waxman. Reading about his work, so diligently standing up for seniors and public health in the early '80s was a key influence on my decision to become a public interest lawyer, seeing the good that could be done through the legislative process." She just wants to say, "So many of us owe a debt of gratitude for you, for your passionate and unrelenting focus on the public good throughout your career, even in the face of resistance I'm sure we cannot fully appreciate." Thank you, Congressman Waxman.
WAXMANThank you. Those are very heartening words. Let's all just keep fighting and be as creative as possible to make sure that we fight for what is important to people.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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