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Henry Waxman, 20-term Democrat, leaving House

California Democrat Henry A. Waxman.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

California Democrat Henry A. Waxman.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., whose 40 years in the House produced some of the most important legislation of the era, will announce Thursday that he is retiring at the end of the year.

Waxman, 74, joins the growing list of House members who are calling it quits, many in disappointment over the partisanship and ineffectiveness of a Congress that may end up as the least productive in history.

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“It’s been frustrating because of the extremism of Tea Party Republicans,” Waxman said in an interview Wednesday. “Nothing seems to be happening.”

The frustration is felt on both sides. More than 30 House members have announced that they will retire, resign or run for other offices this year, including stalwarts like George Miller, D-Calif.; Tom Latham, R-Iowa; Frank R. Wolf, R-Va.; and Howard P. McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Waxman’s departure after 20 terms in the House will be particularly poignant. One of his most notable accomplishments, the Affordable Care Act, which he was instrumental in writing, is shaping up as the centerpiece of campaigns all over the country, not as a triumph but as a Republican cudgel. And the expansion of Medicaid that he has championed has been challenged in a number of states run by Republican governors.

The bill to combat climate change that he wrote was passed by the House in 2009 but died in the Senate, and President Barack Obama has given up on efforts to push it through. Waxman has also spent years trying to strengthen the powers of the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, but those efforts are under fire from the Republicans who control the House.

Still, Waxman will leave behind a legacy of entrenched accomplishments, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which extends coverage to millions of low-income children; anti-tobacco, food safety and food-labeling laws; and the Ryan White Care Act, which allocates billions of dollars in federal money for the treatment of HIV and AIDS.

He is also credited with having laid the foundation for many of the executive actions that Obama, during his State of the Union address Tuesday, pledged to pursue. One involves the Clean Air Act, which Waxman helped write and which gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority it is now exercising to regulate power plant emissions of greenhouse gases. Waxman saw to it that the bill would allow the president, on his own, to order improvements in automobile fuel efficiency and other energy saving efforts.

Waxman — whose 33rd Congressional District hugs the Southern California coast and includes Malibu, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica — has long been a House leader. For five years beginning in 1979, he was chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. He often butted heads on environmental issues with the chairman of the full committee, John D. Dingell of Michigan.

In 2008, Waxman defeated Dingell in a secret House vote to become chairman of the full committee. After the Republicans regained control of the House two years later, he became the committee’s ranking member.

Earlier, when he served on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Waxman had also conducted high-profile investigations of Wall Street, Major League Baseball, Pentagon contractors and the tobacco industry.

He has been unapologetic about the health care law during its troubled rollout in the fall, and he said that he was confident it would survive and that its use as a political weapon would diminish.

“I’m proud of the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “I think it’s a terrific piece of legislation.”

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