Washington Update

Upcoming Retirements Cost House Democrats Decades of Experience

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A growing number of the most senior members of the House Democratic caucus have announced their retirements from the GOP-led House. These include Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; and Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), the longest serving member of Congress in history.  Waxman and Miller are the last remaining members of the 1974 class that sent a surge of Democrats into the House after Watergate, increasing their majority at the time to more than two-thirds.  Dingell entered Congress in 1955 and held multiple chairmanships of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Waxman is among nine announced retirements of House Democrats to date. With his departure, Democrats will be losing more than 150 years of House experience, reports CQ Roll Call Editor David Hawkings. Two more senior House Democrats, Rep. Nick Rahall Jr. (D-WV) and Collin Peterson (D-MN), are both facing tough midterm re-elections in Republican-leaning districts, says Hawkings, and if they lose, another six decades of experience will also depart. Even assuming they win, there will be no more than seven House members remaining who chaired committees at the time when Democrats were last in power.

Both Waxman and Miller are key allies of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Waxman was one of the most prominent legislators of his time, focusing on both environmental legislation and health care, while mounting a successful challenge against Dingell for chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the 111th Congress, positioning him to play a crucial role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps Waxman’s most public moment came in 1994, when he brought the heads of the country’s major tobacco companies to Washington to testify on the dangers of tobacco. Their claim under oath that tobacco was not addictive became a key moment in the national fight to regulate cigarettes.

There is no obvious successor to Waxman’s ranking membership — the two most likely contenders are Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA).  Miller has spent his entire 39 years on the House education committee, serving as the top Democrat on the panel since 2001. He played major roles in overhauling the federal student loan program to increase higher education access.

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