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Powerful Anti-Supplement Congressman Henry Waxman Retires

Powerful Anti-Supplement Congressman Henry Waxman Retires
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waxmanWhew! We won’t soon forget the all-night conference committee meeting in which Waxman tried to slip in an anti-supplement amendment written so that even a lawyer could not understand it.

On January 30, 2014, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced his retirement from the House after forty years of service. Waxman is considered one of the most productive lawmakers of modern times, helping to pass major legislation on an almost annual basis. President Obama has called Congressman Waxman “one of the most accomplished legislators of his or any era.”

We regard Waxman as a kind of tragic figure. He almost certainly came to Washington as an idealist who wanted to work for the public good. Even when he developed his mastery of all the most underhanded tricks, such as attaching provisions to unrelated bills, writing them in language no one could understand, slipping new items into conference bills, and trading of votes, we feel sure he thought that he was doing it for good causes.

In many cases, what Waxman actually got from his successful legislation was unintended. For example, he passed a bill mandating that either MBTE or ethanol be added to gasoline. Eventually MBTE was largely banned for contamination of groundwater and ethanol became a crony capitalist boondoggle that did not even benefit the environment.

Waxman considered himself a strong environmentalist but passed a clean energy bill that ended up being supported by coal companies and opposed by environmental groups. As healthcare legislation emerged in his committee, he once again seemed to have been captured by corporate interests, in this case, health insurers, who were also major campaign contributors to him.

When Waxman decided that toys were dangerous to children, he passed legislation that mainly put small, artisanal toymakers out of business, thereby serving the interest of giant corporations.

We never knew why this powerful congressman was so hostile to dietary supplements, although he was supported by Big Pharma. The odd part of it was that his district included part of Hollywood. It must have included health food stores and many of his constituents and supporters would have been supporters of natural health.

Notwithstanding his district, Waxman wanted supplements treated like drugs, even though they can’t be patented, and being non-patentable, nobody will pay a billion dollars to take them through the FDA drug-approval process. Even if supplement prices were raised to drug levels, they would still just disappear, because of the lack of patent protection. Waxman is very smart. He must have understood all this.

The greatest irony perhaps is that when it came to protecting  access to dietary supplements, natural health activists succeeded in outmaneuvering one of Washington’s most clever and powerful players at every turn:

  • Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009: Defeated! FSEA, also known as the Waxman-Dingell bill, would have given FDA unprecedented power over supplement producers and small farmers, even allowing ten-year prison terms for minor administrative violations! But calls and messages to Congress ensured this bill never made it out of the Senate.
  • Anti-Supplement Amendment to the Wall Street Reform Act: Rejected! In 2010, Congressman Waxman introduced an amendment that would have awarded the Federal Trade Commission the power to essentially disregard DSHEA—the main legislation protecting consumer access to supplements. The provision’s language was virtually indecipherable to any but a trained legislative expert, and was buried in a completely unrelated bill. This amendment could have easily passed unnoticed— but it was discovered in time and congressional conferees were flooded with messages.
  • GAO Fear-Mongering on Supplement AERs: Flopped! In the wake of several failed anti-supplement bills, Congressman Waxman allied himself—as you might expect—with anti-supplement Senator Dick Durbin to try a new tactic: they asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review adverse event reports (AERs) for dietary supplements. The goal was to prove how “dangerous” dietary supplements were…and instead overwhelmingly demonstrated their safety.
  • Desire to Amend DSHEA: Thwarted! Since DSHEA passed in 1994, Rep. Waxman has been eager to repeal it. Thanks to natural health activists, as well as our staunch Congressional allies, Rep. Waxman’s wish never came true.

As you might have guessed from all this, Rep. Waxman’s top supporters were from conventional medicine. This is clearly reflected in his fundraising: in 2012 alone, his reelection fund and PAC received $187,000 from health professionals, $89,250 from hospitals, and $64,000 from pharmaceutical and “health product” companies.

Although Waxman was doggedly anti-supplement, there were brief moments when we were on the same side. For example, in 2009, he called out the FDA for granting special favors to chemical makers, and demanded the FDA reassess the safety of BPA. He also reportedly supported removing Section 1613 from the current Farm Bill, which would have essentially covered up Big Farma’s agricultural, ecological, and animal rights disasters.

As Rep. Waxman himself famously said, nothing is ever “settled for good” in Washington. ANH-USA will keep an eye out for Capitol Hill’s next Waxman. There will always be people who for whatever reason are trying to use government to create health product monopolies and force us all into a one-size-fits-all style of medicine. But no one, we hope, will ever be so skilled at sneaky legislative maneuvers.

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