John Dingell, 'Dean Of the home,’ Remembered As A Force In Health Policy


Former Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who holds the record as the longest-serving member of the U.S. House, died Thursday night in Michigan. He was 92.

And while his name was not familiar to many, his effect on the country, as well as on healthcare in particular, was immense.

For a lot more than 16 years Dingell led the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is accountable for overseeing the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the U.S. Public Health Service, the meals and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

With nearly Six decades of service, Dingell was the longtime “dean of the House,” an honor accorded to the longest tenured member. As a young legislator, he presided over the House during the vote to approve Medicare in 1965. As a tribute to his father, who served before him and who introduced the very first congressional legislation to determine national medical health insurance throughout the New Deal, Dingell introduced their own national health insurance bill at the beginning of every Congress.

And once the House passed what would end up being the Affordable Care Act in 2009, leaders named the legislation after him. Dingell sat by the side of The president when he signed the balance into law this year.

Dingell was “a beloved pillar from the Congress and something of the finest legislators in American history,” said a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Yet, among the wide array of historic legislative achievements, few hold greater meaning than his tireless commitment to the health of the United states citizens.”

He wasn't always nice. He had a fast temper along with a ferocious demeanor when he was displeased, that was often. Witnesses who testified before him could feel his wrath, as could Republican opponents as well as other committee Democrats. And he was fiercely protective of his committee's territory.

In 1993, throughout the effort by President Bill Clinton to pass through major health reform, as the heads from the three main committees that oversee health issues argued over which would lead your time and effort, Dingell famously proclaimed of his panel, “We have health.”

Dingell and the health subcommittee chairman, California Democrat Henry Waxman, fought endlessly over energy and environmental issues. The Los Angeles-based Waxman was among the House's most active environmentalists. Dingell represented the powerful auto industry in southeastern Michigan and opposed many efforts to want safety equipment and fuel and emission standards.

In 2008, Waxman ousted Dingell from the chairmanship from the full committee.

But the two were of the same mind on most health problems, and together throughout the 1980s and early 1990s they expanded the Medicaid program, reshaped Medicare and modernized the FDA, NIH and also the Cdc and Prevention.

“It was always a relief for me to realize that when he and that i met with the Senate in conference, i was talking from the same page, supported exactly the same things, and we would fight together,” Waxman said in '09.

Dingell was succeeded in the seat by his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, herself an old auto industry lobbyist.