Waxman Has Bush Administration in Sights

The Associated Press
Saturday, November 25, 2006; 2:12 PM

LOS ANGELES -- The lawmaker poised to cause the Bush administration's biggest headaches when Democrats take control of Congress may just be a grocer's son from Watts who's hardly a household name off Capitol Hill.

Rep. Henry Waxman has spent the last six years waging a guerrilla campaign against the White House and its corporate allies, launching searing investigations into everything from military contracts to Medicare prices from his perch on the Government Reform Committee.

In January, Waxman becomes committee chairman _ and thus the lead congressional hound of an administration many Democrats feel has blundered badly as it expanded the power of the executive branch.

Waxman's biggest challenge as he mulls what to probe?

"The most difficult thing will be to pick and choose," he said.

The choices he makes could help define Bush's legacy.

"There is just no question that life is going to be different for the administration," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the current committee chairman. "Henry is going to be tough. ... And he's been waiting a long time to be able to do this."

Waxman, 67, is in his 16th term representing a Los Angeles district that has migrated west over the years to take in some of the country's most exclusive real estate: Bel Air, Malibu, Beverly Hills. It's worlds from the apartment he grew up in over his father's grocery store, in a predominantly black neighborhood where, he said, "There was one other Jewish kid _ my sister."

The glitz of his district hasn't rubbed off. He remarks wryly that Malibu's celebrity beach-access disputes are, luckily, not a federal issue. And he's never been to the Oscars.

At first he wasn't invited, and now, "I have this reputation of never having gone." Why ruin it?

Balding, and quiet-spoken, with glasses, a snub-nose and a mustache, the 5-foot-5-inch Waxman isn't an in-your-face political bruiser. But he doesn't shrink from a fight.

At age 28 he challenged and beat a Democratic incumbent to win a seat in the state Assembly. Once in Congress, he muscled aside a more senior lawmaker to become chairman of an Energy and Commerce subcommittee, using the post to summon the heads of big tobacco to the famous 1994 hearing, depicted in the movie "The Insider," at which they testified that nicotine wasn't addictive.

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