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Waxman: Health Care Reform This Year

Barack Obama has said he wants to pursue major health care reform this year. Two key committee chairmen in the Senate, Max Baucus and Ted Kennedy, have said they watn to pursue health care this year. But what about the House? The leadership has been strangely silent on the question, except for some recent statements by James Clyburn, the Majority Whip, that it might be better to move slowly and expand coverage incrementally.

A few minutes ago, Congressman Henry Waxman made his feelings known--and did so with no ambiguity. Speaking at the annual Health Action conference, sponsored by the health care advocacy group FamiliesUSA, Waxman announced "This is our time. ... We need to get this job accomplished this year and get a bill to the president."

Waxman is not in the House leadership, of course. But he is very close with Speaker Pelosi and, no less important, he is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee--the committee that will likely take the lead on writing and then pushing health reform legislation.

That's not to say the leadership is unanimous behind this position. Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also addressed the FamiliesUSA conference. I wasn't there to hear it, but, I'm told, he promised legislation in "this Congress"--which, obviously isn't the same thing.

But keept his in mind: Waxman's legislative prowess is the stuff of legend; he's almost single-handedly responsible for a series of Medicaid expansions that brought health insurance to millions of poor women and children. And one reason is that he doesn't tend to pick fights he can't win. By putting his imprimatur on a year-one timetable, he not only pushes the process forward--he signals that it may actually result in success.

--Jonathan Cohn