If you go to the Democratic Web page for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, it reads: “The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the main investigative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. It has jurisdiction to investigate any federal program and any matter with federal policy implications.”
An extremely premature public conversation is now taking shape about how the Congress would shift if the Democrats lose the majority in the November midterms — and more specifically about how I would act as chairman of the Oversight Committee.
For the record, when Republicans were in the majority and I was an Oversight subcommittee chairman, the only time I ever made use of subpoenas was to compel the testimony of five of the biggest oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico in an effort to uncover the true nature of the dysfunctional and too-cozy relationship companies had with the government agency that regulated their drilling and oil exploration efforts — the Minerals Management Service.
That investigation by the committee, which held five hearings and reviewed thousands of pages of documents, was cut short when the Democrats took control. The new committee chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), did his best to shut it down. Despite repeated requests, he never once held a hearing to follow up on the problems that had been exposed at the agency now at the center of the Gulf oil spill.
Between a trillion-dollar stimulus, numerous bailouts and a government takeover of health care, the role, size and scope of the federal government has grown dramatically. Yet the resources needed to oversee the bureaucracy have not kept pace.
I have made no secret of my commitment to bolster the efforts of the Oversight Committee by calling for an increase in the number of committee investigators so that we can aggressively oversee a bureaucracy in which the landscape has significantly changed and hold corporate America accountable.
But, rather than join with me in a partnership to bring more oversight, transparency and accountability to government, Democrats are attempting to mislead the American people by creating an illusionary scenario where wrongdoing by corporations gets a free pass while the diligent and hope-filled president is besieged by subpoena-wielding congressional investigators.
Never missing an opportunity to add some fictitious fodder to the debate, the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee said, “Instead of focusing on holding big corporations like [BP] accountable, if Issa and Republicans have their way, as chairman, Issa would use subpoenas and an 80-person staff to launch taxpayer-funded witch hunts against the president.”
The DCCC is embarking on this ridiculous effort to distort the truth in a distasteful fashion to score cheap political points. In other words, business as usual.
Quite frankly, a quick look at our history demonstrates that oversight of both corporations and the government can be done vigorously and effectively — perhaps to the chagrin of the Obama White House and Democratic congressional leaders.
Since becoming ranking member of the Oversight Committee, I’ve led investigations into American International Group’s backdoor bailout, Countrywide’s VIP mortgage program, Toyota’s profit-first, safety-second mentality, General Motors Corp.’s shredding of documents despite being owned by the taxpayers and Johnson & Johnson’s safety standards in relation to significant children’s medicine recalls.
When there are legitimate questions to be asked regarding corporate America, I will not — and have not ever — hesitated to aggressively pursue those answers.
But that doesn’t mean our committee should not also look inward at the litany of waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement and corruption that exists in our own federal bureaucracy.
Does this mean that some issues will create uncomfortable questions for this administration? Yes.
Does that mean we should abandon our obligation to conduct rigorous oversight? No.
The bottom line is, if the DCCC or anyone else wants to engage in a debate on oversight, that is a debate we welcome.
Some Democrats seem to think that a Democratic Congress should give this administration immunity from legitimate questions and appropriate accountability. I challenge them to make that case to the American people.
This is a fight that speaks to the very heart of our democracy. It is a fight between those who would aggressively pursue oversight so that the American people can have the government they deserve and those who seek to preserve the status quo at all costs.
To know what can go wrong when oversight becomes a passing thought rather than a first priority, look at the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.
But don’t worry; the DCCC considers such oversight efforts a “taxpayer witch hunt against the president.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) serves as the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.