In a sharp break with Washington tradition, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif) unseated long-time top Democrat on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, John Dingell (D-Mich), to become the panel’s new chairman. The House Democratic caucus backed Waxman for the job after a hotly contested campaign in which Waxman claimed to be better positioned to work with the new Obama administration to enact environmental and health care legislation.
The change puts a long-time critic of the pharmaceutical industry at the helm of this all-important panel. All health care legislation fall under its purview, along with measures affecting the Food and Drug Administration and other federal health agencies. However, Waxman differs with Dingell more notably on environmental and clean air policy and less on health issues, making the change less dramatic for pharma and health care entities. Both Dingell and Waxman have long championed universal healthcare, and a top priority for the new chairman will be to pursue health reform legislation vigorously.