Dingell to Lead House Health Care Overhaul

Posted December 18, 2008 at 5:12pm

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) has reached an agreement with his one-time rival, incoming Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), to take a lead role shepherding national health care legislation next year. Dingell, whom Waxman ousted as the Energy chairman in a surprise coup last month, will forgo seeking the chairmanship of the panel’s Subcommittee on Health to focus on the health care overhaul. He will serve as the chief sponsor of the bill and top negotiator with the Senate and White House on the measure. “We’re very happy about this,” a Dingell source said. The veteran Michigan lawmaker also will get ex-officio status on all Energy and Commerce subcommittees, meaning he can participate in their deliberations at will. And though he will not get a subcommittee gavel himself, Dingell is set to get a still-undetermined number of subcommittee staffers. The contest last month for the committee chairmanship was frequently framed along ideological lines, in part because Dingell, a fierce defender of Detroit automakers, favored a less aggressive approach than Waxman on the issue of global climate change. But Dingell, who in February will become the longest-serving House Member in history, also has championed a number of liberal priorities, most notably universal health care. Dingell’s father, whose House seat he claimed in 1955, was an early advocate for a national health system, and Dingell himself has introduced a universal coverage bill in every session of Congress since he was elected. Whether a massive health care package can move next year remains unclear, given the breadth and complexity of the issue. But with newly expanded Congressional majorities and control of the White House, Democrats aren’t wasting time getting to work on crafting legislation – believing they are eyeing their best chance for major reform since 1994. “I intend to be an active and enthusiastic leader on the Committee and I appreciate the efforts of Chairman Waxman to partner with me as we move into the 111th Congress,” Congressman Dingell said in a joint statement from the lawmakers. “Henry and I have been able to work together in the past and agreed on most issues, and even in areas where we have disagreed, together we have passed important legislation. Because of the work we have done together in the past, Energy and Commerce has been one of the most successful, innovative and productive committees in the House’s history.” Waxman was similarly positive about the partnership, saying of Dingell: “His great talent, experience, and political skill will be a tremendous help to me and an asset to the Committee as we move forward on important legislation. Working together I expect that we will embrace the new opportunities facing us and work with the Obama Administration to deliver the change that our country needs.”