WASHINGTON -- California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, one of the most prolific and successful lawmakers of the modern era, has decided to retire at the end of this congressional session.
"Forty years have gone by very quickly. I have a great deal of satisfaction in our legislative accomplishments. There's obviously more to be done," Mr. Waxman, 74, said in an interview Wednesday. "But I'm in good health, and my family is in good health. This is a good time to move on and have another chapter if I am to do anything after Congress."
The walls of his Rayburn House Office Building suite are covered with picture frames holding pens used by every president since Jimmy Carter to sign legislation that Mr. Waxman played a crucial role in writing. Among that legislation were laws to make infant formula safer and more nutritious (1980), bring low-priced generic drugs to market (1984), clean the air (1990), provide services and medical care to people with AIDS (1996) and reform and modernize the Postal Service (2006). He was also instrumental in the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
The secret to effective legislating, Mr. Waxman said, is "you outlast [the opposition]. You keep working. You keep looking for combinations."
"Everything I ever passed into law, with one exception, had bipartisan support," he added. "And the exception was the Affordable Care Act, where the Republicans should have been working with us, but didn't want to give President Obama a victory -- even though the law was based on a lot of Republican ideas."
Mr. Waxman had once advocated a single-payer, Canadian-style health-care system.
Many Republicans would disagree with the unapologetically liberal Los Angeles congressman's assessment of himself as a builder of bridges across the aisle.
For all the finesse he showed at writing laws as he rose on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Mr. Waxman was also legendarily aggressive in his role as the Democrats' chief inquisitor on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
With one of the most highly regarded staffs on Capitol Hill, he led investigations that delved into the tobacco-industry marketing practices, use of steroids in professional sports, the 2008 collapse of Wall Street and the flawed intelligence used to justify the Iraq war.
Bald, soft-spoken and standing only 5-foot-5, Mr. Waxman appears surprisingly unintimidating for one who was dubbed the "Democrats' Eliot Ness" by the liberal Nation magazine. The answer to a 2012 "Jeopardy!" question about him was: "The mustache of justice."
The scope and number of legislative achievements that Mr. Waxman can claim -- while serving in both the House majority and minority -- would seem nearly unimaginable in today's polarized Congress.
But he insisted that his decision to leave Congress was not the result of frustration or the fact that Democrats appear unlikely to regain the House in 2014.