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Who can step into his role?
On Thursday, news broke that rattled the American political world in general, but hit those of us in West Los Angeles particularly hard: 20-term Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, who has represented me for most of the 17 years I have lived in Los Angeles, announced that he would not seek re-election to another term in Congress.

Congressman Waxman has not been known just for his longevity, but for his effectiveness. As Joan McCarter mentioned, Waxman developed the model for how a ranking member could be effective as a member of the minority; his accomplishments in office are such the press release detailing them needed no exaggeration to make its point. And while speculation abounds about which local heavy hitter on the political scene will step up to the plate to run to replace Waxman, the unfortunate truth is this: whoever ends up winning what will undoubtedly be a bruising election in this blue seat will step into the halls of Congress as a freshman, likely in the minority party, with impossibly big shoes to fill.

There are many factors that could have contributed to Waxman's decision to step aside. The 2010 decennial redistricting changed his district significantly and incorporated a large swatch of new, more conservative territory, and in 2012 he faced a stiff challenge from the personal war chest Republican-turned-independent Bill Bloomfield. Retirements of senior members of the minority also fuel speculation about perceptions of the minority party's changes of taking control of the House and returning the chairmanship gavels to their previous owners. Waxman, however, insists that none of these factors matter and it was simply time to give someone else a chance to take the reins:

The reason for my decision is simple. After 40 years in Congress, it’s time for someone else to have the chance to make his or her mark, ideally someone who is young enough to make the long-term commitment that’s required for real legislative success.  I still feel youthful and energetic, but I recognize if I want to experience a life outside of Congress, I need to start soon.  Public office is not the only way to serve, and I want to explore other avenues while I still can.
No matter what the reason for his retirement, however, Waxman will leave Congress a less relevant place than he found it. And Congress only has itself to blame. More below the fold.

The American system of government is contrived from a Madisonian ideal of checks and balances that are specifically designed to force the various branches of government to work together and compromise. As Madison himself wrote in The Federalist #51:

To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places.
The idea of the very structure of government forcing its various apparatus to work together to accomplish objectives, even at the risk of slowing down progress, is laudable, as it prevents extremism in any particular faction from imposing its will on the land. The unfortunate part about checks and balances? It assumes that everyone in all branches of government is working toward the common objective of public service, rather than a scenario in which those in charge of a particular branch (or rather, one half of one branch) have as their primary objective to politically break other branches of government. Absent this fundamental aspect of good governance and mutual goals, a system in which the consent of all branches is necessary to get anything done rewards radicalism as a method of obstruction.

The tea party Republicans have used their power in Congress to do everything they can to prevent anything from actually getting done. The problem with this approach? It leads to drastically bad poll numbers. What happens when Congress has drastically bad poll numbers and is preventing the president from getting anything done? Why, executive orders, which run on the calculated risk that the policy outcome achieved by an executive order is worth whatever political risk is involved by sidestepping congressional approval.

Now, despite the handwringing and battle cries of the right wing, President Obama is actually issuing executive orders at the lowest rate since Grover Cleveland. No surprise: he has dedicated his presidency to brokering great compromises and grand bargains. When a deliberate negotiator like President Obama announces an increased reliance on executive orders, then, it is time to take heed. One might also expect that members of Congress, even ones ideologically allied with the current president, would not take too kindly to that president's announcement that he was intending on making them less relevant part of the government process. Instead, however, the use of executive orders was an applause line among congressional Democrats:

@rudepundit: Obama says he'll work without Congress. Half of Congress applauds its irrelevance.
In other words, things have gotten so bad in Congress that Democrats would rather applaud their irrelevance in the name of progress on issues than attempt to preserve their own authority while making no progress whatsoever. And the Republicans who control the chamber would rather use their offices to pursue a vitriolic witch-hunt against one individual than ensure that the fundamental structure of American democracy is viewed as a net positive.

Congressman Henry Waxman prided himself on getting things done for the American people, even when in the minority, and actually reaching across the aisle when possible to partner on meaningful reforms. He prided himself on being effective and getting things done for the people. But given what Congress has turned itself into, the surprise isn't that someone as effective as Waxman has retired; the surprise, rather, is that so many other effective legislators are still hanging around.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I recently read a political analysis (13+ / 0-)

    …and prediction of events leading up to the 2014 midterms, that emphasized the possibility of a serious number of resignations during January and February that would impact the landscape.

    I don't recall the article, but I seem to remember that the predictive outcome was that the house and senate would hold their relative positions -- and that complete government gridlock would continue for the nation.

    I suppose this is a good thing.

    “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” ― Eric Schmidt

    by Pluto on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 06:45:07 PM PST

  •  To me it seems that what David Simon said in the (4+ / 0-)

    Bill Moyers interview maybe also impacting why members of
    Congress are leaving. They are feed up with a system that allows special interest to over ride the general interest of the nation. To have to give up on principals to be able to have even a small impact for a positive effect in a small way must be hard to live with.

  •  My favorite Waxman moments are those in which (11+ / 0-)

    he shuts Darryl Issa down and threatens to have him removed from the chamber. It commences around the 2:10 marker and is a thing of beauty.

    Can't imagine a freshman pulling that off.

  •  Tipped and Recc'd (10+ / 0-)

    Thanks, Dante. I share your feelings on Waxman's retirement. It's a real loss.

  •  Irrelevant? It's th Defining Element of the Global (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mighty Ike, mettle fatigue, Aunt Pat

    superpower. It makes governance by, of and for the people impossible.

    That's the most dramatic development in the history of  modern elected governments.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 06:59:55 PM PST

  •  I'm elated that (5+ / 0-)

       Sandra Fluke is considering running. How very very cool because the younger gens will have someone to energize with. It's going to be VERY hi profile, hopefully energizing the rest of the nation's youth as sadly they've been downed.
       She's going to be inundated with a lot of word $alad$ from a very entrenched boring status quo that LA has become, they being word $alad $pecialists. I'd recommend keep it simple until the home stretch and then shine.
       If I get my dismal act together, I'll volunteer. What fun. Popcorn all around.

    March AGAINST monsatanOHagentorange 3/25/13 a time warp

    by 3rock on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 07:02:03 PM PST

  •  I wish Pelosi (5+ / 0-)

    and Feinstein would leave, too.

    The banks have a stranglehold on the political process. Mike Whitney

    by dfarrah on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 07:08:00 PM PST

  •  To put this in perspective (10+ / 0-)

    Losing Henry Waxman in the House is akin to losing someone like Ted Kennedy or Paul Wellstone in the Senate.

    It doesn't matter who replaces Waxman in his district.  He leaves very big shoes to be filled in the House of Representatives.

    I was shocked and saddened to hear of his retirement, but fully understand his reasoning.  

  •  This sickens me. (6+ / 0-)

    Waxman is a national institution. He will be missed.

    Ceterum censeo Factionem Republicanam esse delendam.

    by journeyman on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 07:35:04 PM PST

  •  Major OT: Seahawks win huge 43-8! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    3rock, mettle fatigue, Tweedledee5

    We now resume our regular hand-wringing...

    "Reagan's dead, and he was a lousy president" -- Keith Olbermann 4/22/09

    by kovie on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 07:43:23 PM PST

  •  one of our great reps (5+ / 0-)

    Definitely one of the finest and most intelligent reps in our history as a nation, and we were spoiled that he repped us right here out of West LA/Santa Monica!

    free the information

    by freelixir on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 07:47:38 PM PST

  •  I am glad to see Waxman going (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    My comment from C&J on Friday night:

    JEERS to Henry Waxman and don't let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya on the way out.  I know others like Waxman, but I'm not one of them.  Thanks to Henry Waxman and Orrin Hatch and their Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act, colchicine pills went from generics without food dye sold at $.09 per pill to little teeny-tiny oval purple pills (meaning the food dye can cause an allergy reaction) sold at $4.85 PER PILL, and the drug company that makes Colcrys has the right to that exclusive deal for three years while generic colchicine, a gout medicine that's been around for 3500 years, cannot even be made during that time!!!  F#ck both Waxman and Hatch!  IMHO they're both w#ores for the pharmaceutical corporations.  Senior citizens who don't have insurance to cover the cost are SOL if they have a gout attack.  There are steroid meds with icky side effects that will help, but not quite as effectively as colchicine (even with diarrhea as a side effect for colchicine).
    This Hatch-Waxman Act needs to be REPEALED IN FULL.  There is NO valid excuse to give these corporate arseholes exclusive profits for drugs they make at artificially-increased prices - particularly in the case of colchicine where the side effects have been known about for millenia, the proper dosage was worked out at least as long ago, and adding food coloring can only increase the side effects if the patient is allergic to the red and/or blue food dye that makes the little purple Colcrys pills (i.e., me, for one - I can take the little generic white pills for gout, but I have problems with certain food dyes).

    So, goodbye and good riddance to Waxman!  Can he take Hatch out with him?  Goodness knows, the drug company that makes Colcrys pills must have paid them enough millions each to retire comfortably and live high off the hog for many years to come.

    I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

    by NonnyO on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 08:05:49 PM PST

    •  Oh my god! (0+ / 0-)

      Complicated laws have unintended effects 20 years later.

      There are, in a 40 year legislative career, undoubtedly stupid things that Waxman has done.   The Hatch-Waxman act however is not one of them.  It has spurred the creation   of generic drugs and, overall, drastically reduced drug prices.  

      •  There is NO Reason for laws to be "complicated." (0+ / 0-)
        Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure.
 — Thomas Jefferson
        Case in point:  The Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and Bill of Rights are written in clear, concise, and easy-to-understand English.  Writing for their audience, Madison, Jefferson, et alia, knew only a few of the people reading it would have a college education.  Some would have what is the equivalent of an education up to about eighth grade.  Still others only an elementary education of a couple of years or so.  Still more would have no education but enough intelligence to understand anything read to them in the town square if someone read the broadsides of any info published.

        Any average person with a grade school education can easily understand our Founding Documents.

        All laws written after our Founding Documents should have been written with as much simplicity.

        You did not understand my point or what happened because of that Hatch-Waxman Act which is the OPPOSITE of what you said.

        It has spurred the creation   of generic drugs and, overall, drastically reduced drug prices.
        The generic drug colchicine (which has been used for 3500 years!) was ALREADY being made as a generic drug, sold at NINE CENTS PER PILL and used with great effect for many, many years.  It is particularly appreciated by gout sufferers (of which I am only one), but it's also used for other health issues (listed on the Wiki page).

        BECAUSE of Hatch-Waxman, a drug company did some fake testing for the FDA that didn't even need doing because proper dosages and side effects for colchicine have been known for thousands of years, they got exclusive rights to ALL profits from colchicine which they renamed Colcrys, kept the same formula, added food coloring, changed the shape of the pill, and increased the price to $4.85 PER PILL, and - by the Hatch-Waxman law - forbid anyone else even making generic colchicine pills for three years!!!

        Ergo, ZERO generic drugs (in the case of colchicine, it had always been a generic because it was in use hundreds of years before the FDA was even created) and ALL profit$$$ to yet another pharmaceutical corporation for three years!  [If it had been a different class of drugs, the number of years of exclusive profits would have been a few years longer; six, IIRC.  It wouldn't surprise me to hear from my pharmacist in the future that colchicine isn't going to be a generic any longer, and all thanks to amendments to this idiotic Hatch-Waxman Act.]

        If these arseholes had created a fancy colored and fancy-shaped drug with the same formula otherwise and wanted to charge a fortune for it, fine.  Fools who don't know better can pay outrageous prices.  It's the FACT that - BY THE HATCH-WAXMAN LAW - the INEXPENSIVE GENERIC DRUG ALREADY BEING MADE WAS TAKEN OFF THE MARKET AND FORBIDDEN FROM BEING MADE FOR THREE YEARS in favor of the profits of a pharmaceutical corporation that rankles me.

        Where are my choices in which drugs to take?  I already know that certain food colors can set off an allergy reaction for me and I actually need the plain white generic pills without food coloring that contain only the medicine I know works.  [As is, my pharmacist has to special-order one of my blood pressure medications that does not contain food dyes because I had an adverse reaction to one they started me on when my high blood pressure and heart condition were first diagnosed.]  What the Hatch-Waxman Act did in the case of colchicine (likely other drugs, too) endangered the lives of people who are allergic to certain food dyes.

        I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

        by NonnyO on Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 02:47:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The wannabe "patriots" will continue to fear (0+ / 0-)

    the "negro menace" until Jan. 20, 2017, at which time they will be stopping progress by creating the "female fear."
    The puppets of the Kochs, et al, will continue to speak against their better interests, because someone told them they should.
    They will never understand the dedication and vision our Henry has shown, always with real people beyond his constituency as his main concern.
    This guy is a mensch.

  •  Let's Face the irrelevance of DC - or the VOTER! (0+ / 0-)

    Say the voters want X and Y. WHat is the possibility that any branch of the Government would give a rat's As*? THink about it - over the last 5 years not one thing the people want or NEED has been acted on without screwing with it to make it silly and actually worse. Just recently the Farm Bill cut $4+ Billion from hungry people and cold people and gave it to the subsidizing of mega farms (generally) and to Insurance companies (REALLY!) guaranteeing them a 14% return no matter what. We have no gun control, we have no environmental protection, we have un-prosecutable banks and brokerages and mortgage lenders, we have 40+ States ignoring Roe V. Wade by edict and law, we have voter rights wiped out.
    So who IS relevant to the Voter? 40 or 50 Billionaires who give money to about 2000 people to sit in seats in DC and State Capitals. THose "elected" people owe NOTHING to Voters. THe Billionaires owe nothing either. It is exactly like 1770 with the Court of George III replaced by the Court of The Koch secret Meetings and the Super Pacs. What was the solution in 1770?

  •  When folks talk about the "Institutional Memory" (0+ / 0-)

    of the Congress, they're talking about Reps like Henry Waxman.

    “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing
    he was never reasoned into” - Jonathan Swift

    by jjohnjj on Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 07:56:08 AM PST

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