Waxman’s Health Care Influence Grows : Congress: Seven staffers from his subcommittee are among the 511 members of the task force that Mrs. Clinton heads.
As the daunting, high-stakes process of revamping the nation’s health care system moves forward, Valley-area congressman Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) looms as an increasingly influential player.
Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health and environment, has met with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and others numerous times. And seven staffers from his subcommittee are among the 511 members of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform that Mrs. Clinton heads. The White House released the complete list last Friday.
“I’m pleased by and large that they’ve tried to consult with some of the staff experts on the Hill and the academic community and different areas of government,” Waxman said in an interview Monday. “It’s important that an Administration taking on something of this magnitude have the maximum amount of input from people who know about these areas.”
Waxman, who has long advocated universal health care coverage, said his major concerns are that the Administration move rapidly and comprehensively. He said if it fails to push health-care overhaul through Congress this year, “too many special interest groups will try to pick it apart and it will be too difficult to pass a total package.”
Fundamentally, he said, “this is a unique opportunity to bring about a major reform in health care in this country. The expectation I have for this Administration is that it will be bold enough that we cover everybody and we figure out how to hold down health-care costs. I know they’re going to be under a lot of pressure not to raise taxes or to hold down costs in too strenuous a way or to ask businesses to pay more.”
He said he feared that the Administration might try to undertake a two-step process that would require a future tax increase to cover the uninsured. He said he was “skeptical about a future Congress trying to raise taxes” to pay for health care for primarily poor people.
Waxman said he has so many staffers on the task force because his subcommittee oversees a wider range of health and medical matters than any other congressional panel.
For instance, the Senate Labor and Human Relations Committee chaired by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) handles many of the same issues, although Medicaid and Medicare are the purview of the Senate Finance Committee. Kennedy has four staffers on the task force.
Waxman’s aides on the task force include Karen Nelson, the subcommittee’s staff director; Ruth Katz, a specialist on public health programs and women’s health issues; Andrew Schneider, an expert on Medicaid; Timothy Westmoreland, who focuses on AIDS and other public health crises, and William Schultz, who handles the Food and Drug Administration. All are subcommittee counsels.
Also on the task force are senior staff associates Ripley Forbes, who specializes in the National Institutes of Health, drug abuse and mental health programs, and Michael Hash, an expert in Medicare and health-care financing. Some task force members have served as members of committees focusing on specific areas; others have acted as consultants to these groups.
Waxman, whose panel will be the first stop in the House for much of the program, said his meetings on Capitol Hill with Mrs. Clinton and her top aides tended to focus on broad political considerations: “What might have the best chance to pass? What alternatives might make the most sense?”
Despite the lack of specifics, he said he expected the task force to meet its goal of presenting a plan to Congress by May 3.
‘You can’t help but be impressed by Mrs. Clinton,” he said. “She’s very knowledgeable, she’s very capable. I think she has a thorough knowledge of the awesome task before them in trying to reform the health-care system and get legislation of that magnitude passed.”