Since President Obama’s inauguration, two of the Democrats’ key legislative priorities have made significant advances in Congress. In June, the House passed a landmark climate bill that would impose the nation’s first-ever congressionally mandated emissions cuts. And following weeks of intensive negotiations, the House on Friday cleared the way for a September vote on legislation to alter the nation’s healthcare system. Today we spend the hour with one of the most influential members of Congress who has played a key role in the debate over climate change and healthcare, among many other issues. Democratic Congress member Henry Waxman has represented California’s 30th congressional district for nearly thirty-five years. As chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he oversaw the talks that led to the panel’s approval of healthcare legislation, clearing the way for a full House vote when lawmakers return in September. [includes rush transcript]
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Since President Obama’s inauguration, two of the Democrats’ key legislative priorities have made significant advances in Congress. In June, the House passed a landmark climate bill that would impose the nation’s first-ever congressionally mandated emissions cuts. And following weeks of intensive negotiations, the House on Friday cleared the way for a September vote on legislation to alter the nation’s healthcare system.
Today we spend the hour with one of the most influential members of Congress who has played a key role in the debate over climate change and healthcare, among many other issues. Democratic Congress member Henry Waxman has represented California’s 30th congressional district for nearly thirty-five years. As chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he oversaw the talks that led to the panel’s approval of healthcare legislation, clearing the way for a full House vote when lawmakers return in September.
Progressives have challenged the Democratic leadership’s healthcare effort for ruling out single payer, where the government would guarantee coverage for everyone. And after a series of compromises, including with the conservative Democrats known as the Blue Dogs, questions remain about whether the current legislation adequately safeguards a government-run public option that would compete with private insurers.
Congress member Waxman also introduced the landmark climate legislation that the House passed in June. The American Clean Energy and Security Act would cut emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It would then cut emissions 83 percent by 2050. The bill would also impose a cap-and-trade system allowing firms to trade emissions permits. Most Republicans opposed the measure, but several Democrats also voted against it for not going far enough. Environmentalist critics say the emissions cuts are too low and could be easily avoided through flawed methods of monitoring compliance.
In the years since the US invasion and occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress member Waxman has also emerged as a leading voice for the oversight of private war contractors such as Blackwater and Halliburton. He has also sought to crack down on lavish executive pay in the wake of the Wall Street bailout.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Waxman has just come out with a new book on his time in office. It’s called The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works. Congress member Henry Waxman joins us now in our firehouse studio for the hour.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Thank you very much. Pleased to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you are one —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I thought you were going to hold up the book.
AMY GOODMAN: —-one of the key power brokers in Washington. And the legislation that has just passed around healthcare, I think the biggest issue in the media has to do with polls — who’s ahead, who’s behind — but never actually explanation. Talk about the key components of your healthcare reform bill.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: The legislation is based on the argument that President Obama made to the American people that he wanted to make sure we had an affordable, good quality healthcare insurance coverage for every American. He suggested doing it in a way that was politically sellable. He wanted to tell people that they didn’t have to be nervous. If they had insurance that they like, they get to keep it. If they were on Medicare and they wanted to stay on Medicare, Medicare would continue to be there. But for everyone else, in order to get your insurance, you would go through an exchange and then choose between insurance plans, one of which would be a public plan. The others would be private insurance plans. This whole concept was the argument he made to the American people, for which he received a mandate. And now he’s calling on Congress to enact it into law.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And as part of these negotiations with the conservative Democrats —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Mm-hmm.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: —- known as the Blue Dogs, one of the issues was he dropped a provision that would have linked the public option to rates paid by Medicare. Now they would have to negotiate those rates, which typically would be higher. This has come under heavy criticism. What’s your response to that?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: The compromise we made with the conservative Democrats on that issue is that for the public plan, there —- first of all, there would be a public plan, and the public plan would have rates set between the Medicare rates and the average of the private insurance companies in a particular region. And the secretary would make that decision and provide those kinds of reimbursements for providers.
But step back a minute and realize how important this bill is. There would be no ability for the insurance companies to keep people from getting insurance for preexisting conditions or charging them more if they offer a potential risk for illness. Insurance companies would have to abide by very strict regulation. Secondly, for low-income people, there would be a subsidy to help them buy their insurance coverage, and that would be insurance whether it’s the public plan or a private plan. There would be an expansion for low-income people to be on Medicaid or in the insurance option. And that’s going to mean large numbers of people who have been uninsured for so long, too long, would be able to get access to healthcare services.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And were some of these subsidies to low— and middle-income people cut as part of this last-minute negotiation?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: There was a trimming of the premium. We wanted to protect people from out-of-pocket costs for their premium at 11 percent of their income. We moved it up to 12 percent of the income. Then there’s an indexing of what people will pay as healthcare costs go up and their salary may not go up as fast, and that was split between the individual or the family and the government. Many members of the committee, especially the progressive members of the committee, did not like that, and so we provided for greater cuts in things like pharmaceutical reimbursements and said all the money that we save will be directed to restoring the protections for those who are going to have subsidies for their insurance.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been a longtime supporter, Congressman Waxman, of HR 676, of the single-payer bill, but you withdrew that support. Why?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: A single-payer bill does not really have a chance to pass the Congress. It would be a radical transformation of our healthcare system. Some people could say, “That’s fine, we should do it.” But I don’t think the Congress would have any realistic chance of passing a bill like that. You’d have to take all the insurance coverage that’s provided on the private sector and switch it over to the government. There would have to be massive taxes, increases, to make up for the lost money that’s now being spent by employers for their employees. And by the time we would be through trying to accomplish something like that, the Republicans would demonize it. So what President Obama suggested was a practical compromise way to accomplish the goals that we wanted.
There are other ways to get universal coverage, as well. Senator Wyden and Bennett had an approach that would end employer coverage by in effect giving people an opportunity to go buy private insurance. That would work. I have some misgivings about it, but it also is a radical transformation of healthcare.
AMY GOODMAN: So, why did you support it for so long?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, I wanted to argue that this was a way to cover people, and it’s the way many countries provide health insurance. And if we were starting from scratch in this country, we might well decide that that would be the way for us to go, but we have right now a system that’s been in place since World War II, where most people have their insurance through their jobs. And we thought it would be much too disruptive and people would be much too anxious, if we took things away from them with the promise that they’re going to get something else. And I didn’t think Congress could pass it.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Now — oh, go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: Just a quick question, follow-up on that, and the CBO has scored the current plan —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: —- and say it’s something like a trillion dollars, for which it’s been criticized by a number of Congress members. Why not score single payer?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Single payer would score well, because the government is then paying for the health insurance, but it would be a radical change in healthcare. And some people say that’s fine, except, as a practical matter, it couldn’t pass.
Now, one of the concessions we made to the progressives on our committee when we had to satisfy the Blue Dog demands is I called Speaker Pelosi, and I said, “Let us have a vote on the House floor on the single-payer system, so we’ll see how well the single-payer system does on the House floor.” I don’t expect it would pass. But, on the other hand, it would be the first chance ever for single payer to be brought to a vote on the House floor.
AMY GOODMAN: But that would be after the current vote, right? Isn’t it something like by December?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, I don’t know what the timing would be, but it would be people in the House would be able to vote for single payer.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Congressman Henry Waxman for the hour. Yes, he’s the Congress member from California who chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. We’re also going to be talking about global warming and the legislation around energy, as well as his past, his history, and how he came to be where he is, one of the key power brokers in the US Congress. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour is the chair of the House Energy Committee, Henry Waxman, Congress member, longtime Congress member from California, has just written a book about his life. I don’t know how he had time. It’s called The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works.
Sticking on this issue of healthcare, I wanted to turn to former healthcare executive Wendell Potter. For years, he served as the chief corporation communication spokesperson at CIGNA and as the company’s main spokesperson. He’s now speaking out against his former industry. Wendell Potter appeared on Democracy Now! last month. We asked him to talk about the insurance industry’s dealings with Congress.
WENDELL POTTER: Well, one thing to remember is that the health insurance industry has been anticipating this debate on healthcare reform for many years. They knew it was inevitable that it would come back. And they knew that if a Democrat were elected president, undoubtedly it would be on the top of the political agenda. So they’ve been positioning themselves to get very close to influential members of Congress in both parties, and Max Baucus is certainly someone they knew, a long time ago, was going to be critical for their interests. So, yes, they — the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry and others in healthcare — have spent, have donated lots and lots, millions of dollars, to his campaigns over the past few years.
But aside from money, it’s relationships that count. And that’s why the insurance industry has hired scores and scores of lobbyists, many of whom have worked for members of Congress and some who are former members of Congress, to lobby on their behalf. Some of Max Baucus’s former staff members work for — in the health insurance industry as lobbyists these days. That is very important. It helps to open the door, and it enables people who are aligned with the industry, who have good associations or close associations with members of Congress, to pass along the talking points or to express the industry’s points of view.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And that was Wendell Potter, served for years as the chief of corporation communications at CIGNA and the company’s main spokesperson. He was talking, of course, about —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Mm-hmm.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: —- Democratic Senator Max Baucus, who’s chair of the Senate Finance Committee. He’s indicated he probably will not be able to get a bill passed in the Senate before they go into recess this week. And a few weeks ago, the Montana Standard reported Baucus has received more campaign money from health and health insurance industry interests than any other member of Congress. In the past six years, nearly one-fourth of every dime raised by Baucus and his political action committee has come from groups and individuals associated with drug companies, insurance — insurers, hospitals, medical supply firms, health service companies and other health professionals. Do you see this as a conflict of interest?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, we have the unfortunate system where we have to run campaigns and raise money for those campaigns. And Senator Baucus is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. There are a lot of different interest groups that follow his committee and support and want to influence him. So that’s the situation we’re faced with. That’s, I think, another argument why we ought to have public funding of campaigns rather than have to rely so heavily on private money.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Also, on this issue of single payer, the House Education and Labor Committee approved an amendment proposed by Dennis Kucinich that would enable individual states to adopt a single-payer system. Would you support that amendment?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I haven’t had a chance to review it. I know in California that a lot of people would like to try a single-payer system. The legislature moved on a bill by a former senator, Sheila Kuehl, to allow a single-payer system. But I would want to look at it more carefully.
The problem with the states is they can’t reach insurance under the ERISA system. And if they get the ERISA system under state control, that’s one thing, but then they have to get the Medicare program under their control, as well. So I want to look at all the consequences of that before I make a decision.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: That passed, by the way, with Republicans voting for it. Most Democrats did not. And that always makes me a bit nervous, because Republicans are not trying to help; they’re trying to hurt the legislation.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask if you agree with the former head of your party, with, well, former Vermont governor Howard Dean. He was just on Democracy Now!
HOWARD DEAN: We want a system that works. This is not about trying to drive the healthcare business into -— healthcare insurance people out of business. I don’t give a damn about the health insurance people being in business or out of business. I want a system that works.
AMY GOODMAN: “I don’t give a damn” about the health insurance industry.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: Your comment?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, I want a system that works, as well. That’s the important thing, that we get a system that works, that will finally cover the 48 to 50 million people who don’t have insurance, that will hold down the costs so that those who have insurance won’t find it costing so much more money that they won’t be able to keep the insurance. I want to help people who can’t afford to buy insurance be able to get some help from the taxpayers.
And I want the insurance companies very, very carefully regulated. Insurance companies have spent most of their money trying to exclude people from coverage. They look to see if there’s any preexisting condition. “No, you’re out.” In effect, they were doing something that was really dishonorable: they were rescinding policies that they granted when they found out that people were sick and needed healthcare, then looked back to see if there was something that they can use to disqualify the insurance.
AMY GOODMAN: Chairman Waxman, in The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works, you tell the story of one of your proudest moments, and it’s bringing the tobacco industry to task.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Swearing — to begin with, when you swore them in was that incredible moment, that incredible image. Talk about that moment. And then I’d like to ask you about what lessons you feel we’ve learned for health insurance industry.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I had held hearings on tobacco when I was chairman of the Health and Environment Subcommittee, because nothing affects American health more adversely, causes more preventable deaths and disease, than smoking and using tobacco products. And we had hearings trying to get attention to the issue, and we would maybe get a story on the news that day, and then they would always get the tobacco scientist saying, “Don’t worry about it. It’s not quite clear that smoking caused all these diseases.”
But the tobacco executives came before my subcommittee. We didn’t subpoena them, but they came voluntarily, swore to tell the truth, and then lied, said cigarettes do not cause disease, nicotine is not addictive, they didn’t manipulate the nicotine in cigarettes, and, of course, they would never target children to get them to smoke cigarettes. And all of it turned out to be untrue, when we finally got the behind-the-scenes documents and testimony from people working in the industry.
And we also found out at that time that cigarette smoke was harmful to the non-smokers, and therefore there could be no justification for people smoking and thinking that the non-smokers should just have to put up with it.
That hearing, I think, had a dramatic impact, as many oversight hearings do, in changing the public image of tobacco. People realized they were these suits, these business people, who were making money in a very cynical way by getting people, especially children, to smoke and then getting them addicted and then killing so many of them with all the diseases related to cigarette smoking.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see — think we’ll ever see the same image of the swearing-in of the health insurance industry executives? Would you like to see that day?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: You know, I don’t think it’s comparable. I think health insurance practices have to be changed. I think it’s wrong when they exclude people from coverage and try to rescind their policies. We need to regulate them.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, isn’t the figure 18,000 people die a year as a result of not having health insurance?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: That’s why we need a health insurance bill, but it’s not because you have insurance companies that could do a good job. They don’t have to waste as much money on excluding people from coverage. But they can negotiate rates. They could do things to provide the delivery system for healthcare so that we’re not spending more money for services that aren’t really needed. So, don’t demonize the insurance companies. I think that’s unfair.
I would demonize the tobacco companies, because there’s nothing you can say about tobacco that they — where they serve any useful public purpose.
On the healthcare bill, I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good. I don’t want another fifteen years before we can deal with the issue of healthcare for the uninsured in this country. We’ve got to do it now, now that we have leadership from the President of the United States and a Democratic Congress. We’re not getting much support, if any, from the Republicans. Let’s get a system in place, and we can change it later. But let’s do the job of getting a workable health insurance system for everybody to have access to the services and needs that they might have.
AMY GOODMAN: And it would go into effect when? In something like 2013?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: It would take — certain things would take effect immediately. A lot of the insurance regulations would take effect immediately. A lot of the public programs would take effect immediately. We’ve put a lot of emphasis on public health and preventive services and training new primary care physicians. But the crux of the bill, with the exchange and the insurance options, will take a little — a couple years to put into place. So I think it’s to 2012 or ’13 when it would be fully in effect.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And your bill still has to be melded together with the other House bills —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Yes.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: —- and then reconciled eventually with a Senate bill.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Right.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Are you worried that, I mean, first of all, that the public option can survive all this different reconciling? And are you worried that the bill will get watered down continually, so as to lose a lot of effectiveness? I mean, you write about this in the book —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Yeah.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: —- and the danger of trade industry lobbying. And they are lobbying very hard right now.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Mm-hmm.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: There’s a whole month now of August where, you know, the lobbying campaigns will be increased. What do you see is happening with the final legislation?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, I would have preferred we voted on the bills in the House and the Senate before the August period where Congress is no longer in session, and then we would come back in the fall and work on the details in a conference committee. Well, that’s not going to happen. We’ll come back in September. We’ll pass two different, very different, bills in the House and the Senate. And you know what? The conferences committee is going to be able to do anything and everything we want.
Speaker Pelosi has said she demands that there be a public option available to people, not just private insurance options. I think it’s important to have it, because it keeps the private insurance companies honest. They’ll have competition. In many parts of the country, you look at the insurance available, and it’s usually Blue Cross or Blue Shield. Eighty percent of the market could be one insurance company. Competition is what holds down costs and brings about better quality. And I think that’s an important thing for us to accomplish in the legislation.
I worry about it getting weaker. I expect in the Senate it’s going to be a weaker bill. But when we get into conference, the President is going to be there, and we’ll be there, as well. We’re going to demand it be a bill that lives up to what we need in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Public plan, the bottom line for you, that there is a public option?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I want a — I want a public option.
AMY GOODMAN: Will you not accept — like the progressive Democrats have written a letter saying they will not vote for anything but a public option.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I don’t like drawing lines, but I expect we’re going to have a public option. But the essential thing is we get a bill that’s going to make sure that everybody gets health insurance. And I think a public option is a way to get the competitive forces to hold down costs and to make sure that there are different systems that will compete on quality.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Now, your other key legislation that passed in June, that you introduced, Waxman-Markey bill —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Yeah.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: —- on climate change, what are the main provisions of that bill?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: The Waxman-Markey bill, or the energy global warming bill, had three objectives. We wanted to reduce our country’s dependence on foreign oil. This is a matter of our national security. We’re so dependent on importing oil from the Middle East that we’ve really lost our ability to stand up to the Saudis, because of the fear that they could cut off our oil. And we’re dependent on other countries and a world market where Iran gets billions and billions of dollars, which they’re using to develop nuclear weapons. So, we need to become less dependent.
Secondly, we need to reduce the carbon emissions. Global warming is a much more serious problem than most people realize. For the last eight years of the Bush administration, they denied that there was such a thing as global warming and censored scientists who talked about the problems from global warming. We’ve got to deal with it. We’ve got to deal with it as a leader in the United States, not one that’s hiding from the reality. And we’ve got to then work with the international community to reduce carbon emissions.
And then, thirdly, there are going to be millions of new jobs when we start making investments in technologies that could hold down the carbon emissions. We hope we can use coal and develop technology that can sequester the carbon from coal. We hope that we can use alternatives and become much more efficient in the use of our fuels and, in that way, reduce the carbon and avoid the increase in carbons and make sure we can turn that curve down and get to an 80 percent reduction, which is what the scientists tell us we need, if we’re going to avert the harm from global warming by 2050.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, on the issue of emissions cuts, I mean, the bill has come under criticism for the level of percentage that it’s set to, a 2005 level and not the Kyoto standard of 1990. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has called for greater cuts. What do you think about the level of cuts that are recommended versus what’s in the bill?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: We provided for cuts, but then we provided for additional offsets, so that when the President of the United States goes to the Copenhagen Conference, which will be a follow-on conference from Kyoto, he can talk about the United States getting a 20 percent reduction and even 25 percent reduction in global emissions, and that will put us where the scientists tell us we need to be. We tried to get the reduction numbers based on the science, and it’s been a struggle. And we had to make some concessions to get the bill through the House, but we found another alternative that could add to the reductions, in addition to the number we achieved for the first tranche of reductions.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Waxman, on the climate bill —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: —- one of the arguments of progressives was that the measure started out strong but was gradually weakened by industry lobbying. I want to play the comments of Tyson Slocum of the group Public Citizen, which criticized the bill. We interviewed him on Democracy Now! about a month before the House vote.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Mm-hmm.
TYSON SLOCUM: Part of the problem was there were a significant amount of meetings that occurred behind closed doors in between the time that Chairman Waxman and Markey released their draft bill in March of this year and then they released a significant revision just last week. And in those closed-door meetings, they met with representatives of the oil and coal industries, and significant numbers of concessions were made.
Look, Public Citizen supports strong, effective climate legislation, and the fact is, is that this bill does not do that. We can talk about the aspirations of hoping to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions, but when you look at what this bill will do, it will not result in significant reductions.
It creates a legal right to pollute for industries and gives away credits for free to allow companies to meet those targets without having to pay for them. And that is simply not going to spur the kind of investments we need. President Obama had it right when he announced in his budget in February that if you wanted to pollute, you would have to pay for the right to pollute. And by holding an auction, the government would raise hundreds of billions of dollars that could be reinvested back to the American people to offset the impacts of higher energy prices that a cap-and-trade program would bring and to spur billions of dollars in needed investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen. Chairman Waxman, your response?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I think he’s wrong. And not only do I think he’s wrong, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council and most of the environmental groups supported what we were doing, because what we did was guarantee the reductions in carbon.
Now, we did it in a way to draw a broad coalition of support for it. We can’t pass a bill just with environmental votes, so we needed to get support from people who were concerned about industry. And we said we’re going to allow a transition, during which we’re going to get the carbon reductions, but we’re going to do it in a way that is the least costly.
So, for example, coal, which is the leading source of carbon emissions, needs to be changed or replaced. But in the meantime, we’ll allow coal to be burned, as long as the utilities get the reductions in carbon. And we spent a lot of money in the bill for research in the technology of carbon sequestration. We hope that in ten years that will be available. If it is, it will not only help the United States, but Russia and China and other places that use coal. Coal is not going away. It’s a domestic resource. So we hope we’ll have that technology available to burn coal without carbon emissions. But in the meantime, the utilities have to figure out other ways to get the reductions. They can do it through offsets. They could do it through closing down some of the old power plants that are coal-burning. They can achieve it, and they could buy credits with those who can achieve the reductions in a less expensive way.
I think that to just have one idea and say, “That’s the only way to do it,” keeps you from getting any progress. And the environmentalists, for the most part, understood what we were doing and supported it.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, on the role of coal in the climate bill, I want to play a clip from your colleague, Congress member Dennis Kucinich. He voted against the climate bill, saying it didn’t go far enough to address climate change, and it would in fact benefit polluters. This is what he said just before the vote.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: The bill allows two billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, roughly equivalent to 30 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions. Supporters of the bill point out that coal use will increase by 2020, because electric utilities will continue to use dirty coal, the prime source of pollution. With two billion tons of offsets per year, we’re told electric utilities will reduce carbon emissions at places other than their generating plants. So they really don’t have to actually decrease their emissions, and coal-fired CO2 emissions will increase through 2025. No wonder there are twenty-six active coal plant applications. Increased CO2 emissions will be our gift to the next generation. Apparently, the planet is not melting; with this bill, it’s just getting better for polluters.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And that was Congress member Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio. Your response, Congress member Waxman?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, Dennis Kucinich is a friend of mine, but he’s wrong. And he had no alternative. What did he want? He just wanted to criticize the bill, but he criticized the bill with a lack of understanding or information. He said we’re going to have more coal being burned by the utilities. Yes, we’re going to have coal-burning utilities, but we’re going to have other reductions in those emissions.
You know, this is not a pollution problem for an area; this is a pollution problem for the planet. And if we can get reductions in carbon at the same time we’re using coal, until we develop the technology to burn coal without carbon emissions, we’re achieving the results. You can’t just close down all the power plants that use coal.
AMY GOODMAN: Among those who was just arrested calling for the closing down of the coal-fired power plants is James Hansen, one of the leading climatologists in the world.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, he would like us to close them down eventually or develop a way to burn it — he was just arrested?
AMY GOODMAN: Yeah.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I didn’t hear that.
AMY GOODMAN: In a civil disobedience.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Oh.
AMY GOODMAN: Yeah.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I didn’t know that. Well, he’s a prominent scientist. And it was, in fact, my oversight investigation, when I was chairman of the Oversight Committee, on the way the Bush administration censored him. They had young right-wing aides that told Dr. Hansen, who is a noted scientist, that he couldn’t talk about his research on global warming. He wants us to get away from those carbon emissions, but he’s not a legislator.
AMY GOODMAN: He was protested for — he was arrested on June 23rd for protesting mountaintop removal in Coal River Valley in West Virginia.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I see. Well, that’s related to the kind of ways that coal can be achieved.
AMY GOODMAN: Would the House pass a moratorium on or a ban on mountaintop removal?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: That may well make sense. That’s not something that I’m intimately familiar with, but I know there are a lot of ways of mining coal that are very destructive to the environment, and I think that was an additional reason that he was protesting.
But coal is widely used by the power plants in the Midwest. And if we stop the use of coal, the electricity rates for people in the Midwest would have skyrocketed. That is not a way to get legislation passed, by antagonizing people in the Midwest, especially when we need support in the Senate from the senators from Ohio and Pennsylvania and Illinois, at places where they are —- or Indiana. We need that support. And so, what we tried to do is develop a piece of legislation where people in the utilities could feel that because we allocated emission credits for their use, they could hold down the cost to the rate payers and figure out other ways that would be less expensive to achieve the carbon emission reductions.
AMY GOODMAN: Chairman Waxman, we have to break, but don’t worry, we’re coming back.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Right, and I’m -—
AMY GOODMAN: Or maybe that’s what worries you.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I’m not worried.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Congressman Henry Waxman. He is chair of the powerful Energy Committee, just brokered deals around energy and healthcare. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined by the powerful chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, before that, chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has been in Congress for more than thirty-five years, has helped craft landmark legislation around health, labor and the environment, and has written a book about his life, The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works. He wrote it with Joshua Green. Sharif?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, on the issue of private military contractors —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Mm-hmm.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: —- you investigated for years in Congress the use of these forces. You’ve called for them to be banned. Now, according to statistics released by the Pentagon in May, there’s been a 23 percent increase in the use of private security contractors working for the Defense Department in Iraq in the second quarter of 2009 and a 29 percent increase in Afghanistan. Now, with Obama as commander-in-chief, instead of seeing a reduction, you’re seeing an increase. What’s your response to that?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I’m sorry that we’re using private military contractors. I think that we ought to use our own military. We ought not to contract out defense of this country, or what they often do is defend the State Department people in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever they may be. This Blackwater turned out to be scandalous, the way they handled things.
The reason I got involved in that is we were doing oversight in the Oversight Committee. A lot of people think Congress legislates and that’s the important thing, but just as important is the oversight, to understand what’s happening, to hold hearings. Sometimes by holding a hearing, as we did in tobacco, you can accomplish a great deal, and as we did in the baseball steroids scandal, because once we put a focus on that issue and introduced legislation, Major League Baseball and other sporting groups decided they better toughen up their anti-steroid and other performance-enhancing drug policies. We did that because we didn’t want the kids to think that there’s an — that they can go ahead and use or should use these drugs in order to be athletes, to be good, successful athletes. So, oversight hearings are very important.
And we also pointed out with the Bush administration, which was so secretive. They didn’t think government had to be open or transparent, because they didn’t think government had to be accountable. They thought they were the government and they can do whatever they wanted. So we held hearings on the outing of the CIA agent Valerie Plame. We held hearings about the misleading information and the lies that got us into the war in Iraq. We held hearings to point out that our democracy is based on checks and balances, and the Congress had a responsibility to investigate and to bring out to light what was going on. So we did that.
We were talking a little bit ago about the global warming issue. And I have a chapter in my book about the Clean Air Act. That was a battle for ten years. It started when the Reagan administration and the chairman on my committee, Democrat John Dingell, got together and wanted to gut the Clean Air Act. There, we had to fight to stop the legislation. Then I wanted to pass legislation to deal with acid rain and carbon emissions. It took us ten years before we got to the final passage of the bill. We had to work out compromises. “Compromise” is not a bad word. It passed overwhelmingly — in fact, the committee unanimously — and it’s been the most successful environmental law ever written. It works today to — solved the acid rain problem, which was from the Midwestern power plants poisoning the lakes and the forests in the Northeast. It dealt with the toxic pollutants that poisoned people who live near industrial facilities in West Virginia and other places. And it put a strong effort to force the cleanup in smog-polluted areas, for which I’m very sensitive, coming from Los Angeles.
Legislation that can do an enormous amount of good for people, Congress does pass it, often on a bipartisan basis, often through compromises, and it positively affects the lives of millions of people. And that’s what I wanted to express in this book. People shouldn’t be so disillusioned that they don’t realize that good things can happen. They also buy into the argument, in doing — saying those things, that government could do no good. Government is essential in the lives of millions of people to give us opportunities for success. No child has an opportunity if he can’t get healthcare or an education. And then we’ve got to protect those who need a safety net under them just to respect the dignity of people as human beings.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: But on the issue of these private military forces, will you call on Obama, now that he’s president, to end the use of these forces?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, I want to find out more about it, but one thing he did, as soon as he took office, is he stopped the practices of the Bush administration by giving noncompetitive contracts, a lot of which went to Halliburton, on a cost-plus reimbursement basis, which encouraged them to raise their costs, and that has now been prohibited both by a legislation and by executive action by the Obama administration.
It could well be — and I have been away from these issues while I’ve been working on the healthcare and the environmental policies, because I’ve become chairman of a different committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee — that they couldn’t find enough public military troops to do the job, and they are now very carefully scrutinizing any private contractors for military operations. But I still don’t like it. And I would think we need not to contract essential things like the military operations to private contractors. We ought to have people whose first loyalty is the United States, not to their contractor, employee — employer.
AMY GOODMAN: Staying on the issue of war, Chairman Waxman —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —- staying on that issue —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: —- the culpability, the responsibility of the past administration.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You came to Congress in the wake of Watergate, right before the Church Committee hearings. Now, people like Rush Holt, Congress member Barbara Lee and others are talking about convening a special committee to investigate the abuses, everything from war to spying on Americans at home. We just did a big exposé on the US Army spying on peace groups right into the Obama administration, right now, infiltrating some peace groups up in Washington state, and they have admitted. The guy came from Fort Lewis base.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I think that’s very important. I support the idea of an independent committee to carry on that investigation. We shouldn’t let it lapse and forget, that it’s just — just say it’s just in the past, and we’ve got to focus on the future. If you don’t learn from the past and correct those errors and make sure that the people who were responsible are held accountable, the past has a way of coming back. We saw that with the repeat of a lot of what went on in Watergate under the Bush administration — the spying on American citizens, the disregard for civil liberties. And we can’t — we can’t fall into a trap of ignoring what went on.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And as chair of the Oversight Committee, you sought to crack down on a lot of this lavish executive pay in the Wall Street bailout.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Yeah, yeah.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We’ve just seen bonuses for these banks — Goldman Sachs, Bank of America — leading in profits —-
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Mm-hmm.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: —- in the second quarter. What — and many executives receiving millions in bonuses. Do you think the Obama administration has handled this well, has cracked down at all on this?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, he certainly cracked down some, but I would like to make sure that we really go after the root causes of these problems. And I’ve been following Paul Krugman’s articles, where he has said that he doesn’t think that the people running the economic policy for this administration are trying to make sure that we don’t have the repeat of runaway markets that can abuse the situation. I’ve been tremendously offended at these CEO pay deals. They’re just not — nobody can be worth the kind of money that they’re being awarded, and they’re being awarded money after they got us into big troubles in our economy and after the government taxpayers’ dollars have been used to bail them out. So I’m very offended by those bonuses.
We did a number of hearings on it when I was chairman of the Oversight Committee, including the fact that there has been a conflict of interest of the people who give advice as to what the executive bonuses should be, because they make more money when they work for the management, the people whose pay they’re adjusting, in other contracts. Chairman Barney Frank of the Financial Institutions Committee has a bill to ban those kinds of practices, which is clearly, in my view, a conflict of interest.
AMY GOODMAN: A last question, it’s on Israel and the Occupied Territories.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Yes, mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: In our headlines today, Secretary of State Clinton met with Jordan’s foreign minister. She criticized Israel for evicting fifty Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, part of a major issue around the issue of settlements.
You recently wrote to the Jewish Daily Forward, saying — they had said you challenged the Israeli prime minister on settlements. You wrote, correcting them, saying, “I welcomed the Prime Minister and expressed support for the continued strength of the US-Israel relationship. I most certainly did not challenge the Prime Minister on any aspect of Israeli policy, including the settlements.” Why aren’t you opposing the Israeli government on the issue of the settlements that are called illegal under international law?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I was very concerned in a private meeting that a number of us had with the prime minister of Israel that the newspaper would come out and make up a story that I challenged him on settlements. That wasn’t the purpose of the meeting. That’s not what went on in the meeting. And I wanted to point out that it was an inaccurate statement.
Now, the Israeli settlement policy, I think, has to be changed. And I think that it’s inexcusable to build settlements outside the bloc areas that everybody recognizes will be part of Israel when there’s a settlement for land. I think the outlying illegal settlements should be closed, and I did say that to Prime Minister Netanyahu when I met with him in Israel. But at that particular meeting, I didn’t —- I didn’t make that statement and didn’t think it was right for somebody to write that I did.
AMY GOODMAN: Why not call for the acceptance of the Arab League peace plan, which would normalize relations with Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, I don’t think that the Arab League peace plan is clear enough that Israel would withdraw from territories and with whom they would make peace. The Palestinians are going through a civil war. Hamas’s reason for being is to destroy Israel. The Fatah organization, we have high hopes that they will be willing to make peace, but they’ve never said that they’re willing to recognize Israel -—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: — as a Jewish state, and so Israel doesn’t have a partner for peace. I wish she did. And the United States has got to try to promote that peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Chairman Waxman, thank you very much for joining us.