Class of ‘75 shapes health reform of ‘09

By A. James Memmott

December 23, 2009 at 10:59am

The New York Times noted this week that Richard Nixon, a Republican, deserves indirect credit for the health-care legislation that has now passed the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

Several leaders of the committees crafting the legislation were members of the Democratic congressional class of 1975, a group that included 75 new members of the House.

The so-called “Watergate babies” were elected in November 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation earlier in the year.

“We have known each other and worked with each other literally for years,” Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut told the Times. “So we come into this with a lot of understanding of each other and a desire to get this done.”

Dodd served three terms in the House before his election to the Senate in 1980. He was acting chair of the Senate’s health committee for several months this year.

Sen. Tom Harkin, 70, of Iowa, assumed the chairmanship in September. After 10 years in the House, he was elected to the Senate in 1984.

Sen. Max Baucus, 68, of Montana, another health-care player, moved from the House to the Senate in 1978. He chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

Two members of the Class of 1975 also had important roles in the health-care legislation.

Rep. George Miller, 64, of California chaired the Education and Labor Committee, and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, 70, also of California, chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The other remaining member of the House’s Democratic Class of 1975, James L. Oberstar of Minnesota, chairs the transportation committee. He was not primarily involved in health-care legislation.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, 69, a Democrat from Vermont, is also a member of the Congressional class of 1975, having been elected to the Senate in 1974 at age 34. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which he heads, did not have a role in health-care legislation.

On the other side of the aisle, Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley, 77, was elected to the House in 1974, one of only 17 new Republicans. He was then elected to Senate in 1980.

In the Senate, Grassley, the ranking minority member of the Finance Committee, voted against the health-care legislation.

At least one former member of the Democratic Class of 1975 had a role in health-care legislation as a lobbyist.

Thomas J. Downey, 60, is now the chairman of Downey McGrath Group, Inc. The firm’s clients include both insurance and health-care firms and organization.

Downey was elected to the House in 1974 at the age of 25 and served until January 1993.

The Democrat Class of 1975 also included the late Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. He moved from the House to the Senate in 1979 and later ran for president.

Another former presidential candidate, astronaut John Glenn, a Democrat from Ohio, was elected to the Senate in 1974 and served there until January 1999.

While no member of the Class of 1975 has made it to the presidency, one wannabe member did.

Bill Clinton ran for Congress from Arkansas in 1974, losing by a 4 percent margin. He later was elected attorney general and then governor before successfully running for president in 1992.

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