The Washington health policy world is headed for a major shake-up next year, as more long-time leading legislators opt for retirement. The recent announcement that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif) will leave marks the end of a 40-year career on Capitol Hill, highlighted by engineering enactment of legislation that established the generic drug industry, supported treatment for AIDS and promoted development of orphan drugs.
The Senate faces even more substantial changes, with the departure of leading Democrats Max Baucus of Montana, who currently chairs the Finance Committee; Tom Harkin of Iowa, head of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee; and Commerce Committee chair Jay Rockefeller. They have been shaped Medicare and Medicaid programs, FDA regulatory policy and, more recently, national health reform. Their collective experience has provided a basis for bipartisan collaboration with Republicans on key legislative initiatives important for biomedical research, drug regulation and medical product reimbursement, and it’s uncertain who will provide comparable leadership in the coming years.
Waxman, who currently is the top Democrat on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, previously chaired that panel and also led the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee. Also departing with Waxman is Rep. George Miller, another leading Democrat from California who helped shape current health programs as a leader of the House Education & Work Force Committee. He and Waxman came to Washington as part of the “Watergate class of 1974” and gained leadership positions that enabled them to promote important policies affecting health, education and the environment.