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REP. WEISS' DEATH LEAVES VOID AT HELM OF GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS SUBCMTE.

Executive Summary

REP. WEISS' DEATH LEAVES VOID AT HELM OF GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS SUBCMTE., which the New York Democrat chaired for 10 years. Weiss, 64, died of heart failure in New York Sept. 14. During his stewardship of the House Government Operations/Human Resources & Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee, Weiss held a series of oversight hearings regarding complex scientific issues, including a number of FDA product approvals and other regulatory decisionmaking by health-related agencies. In 1992 alone, Weiss challenged in letters and hearings FDA's regulation of breast implants and other silicone products like syringes; the off-label use of alpha feta-protein tests; a delay by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in issuing an AIDS prevention report; temporomandibular joint implants; FDA studies of dioxin levels in tampons; Medicare reimbursement for pre-1976 medical devices; CDC's delay in issuing brain injury treatment recommendations; and FDA's regulation of OTC antihistamines. Also this year, Weiss attacked Vice President Quayle's Council on Competitiveness and, with documents he subpoenaed from the council, held a hearing to question FDA's concurrence with council recommendations for speeding new drug approvals. In previous years, the longtime congressional representative from Manhattan's West Side held hearings on Hoechst-Roussel's antidepressant Merital, Roche's benzodiazepine Versed, the anti- arrhythmics Tambocor (3M Pharmaceuticals) and Enkaid (Bristol- Myers Squibb), Collagen Corp.'s injectable collagen implant and three Johnson & Johnson drug products: the nonsteroidal anti- inflammatories Suprol and Zomax and the skin product Retin-A. Weiss also held hearings on the Office of Management & Budget's influence on FDA's regulation of advertising, health claims for foods and color additives. The full committee has not announced an interim replacement, and a permanent appointment to the chair could be a representative not currently on the subcommittee or even the full committee. When Weiss became chairman in 1983, he continued the subcommittee's tradition of FDA oversight that included hearings to question highly technical, scientific issues -- such as new drug reviews safety and efficacy judgments -- involved in agency decisionmaking. The tradition was established by Weiss' predecessor, former Rep. Fountain (D-N.C.), who in 1982, his last year in Congress, held hearings on FDA's approval of two NSAIDs: Lilly's Oraflex, withdrawn the same year, and Pfizer's Feldene. A successor to Weiss may not choose to continue to challenge the agency on such difficult issues. Rep. Waxman (D-Calif.) is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee but has a full plate as chairman of the Energy & Commerce/Health Subcommittee. Three members who follow in seniority -- Reps. Payne (D-N.J.) Mink (D-Hawaii) and DeLauro (D- Conn.) -- have been more active than Waxman on Weiss' subcommittee. On the other hand, the head of another Government Operations subcommittee, such as Government Information Subcommittee Chairman Wise (D-W.Va.), could become interested in moving to the Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee. Weiss won a Democratic primary in his Upper West Side Manhattan district the day after he died, as party leaders urged voters to renominate him so that another candidate as liberal could run for his House seat. A number of liberal Democrats have been named as possible replacements in a repeat primary. They include Bella Abzug, whom Weiss succeeded in 1976 when she vacated her House seat to run for the Senate in a campaign she lost. Other possibilities are Rep. Solarz (D-N.Y.), who lost the primary in his former district after it was reorganized to include a predominantly Hispanic population, state Sen. Franz Leichter, Assemblymen Richard Gottfried and Jerrold Nadler and New York City Councilwoman Ronnie Eldridge.
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