Reclaiming the Right to Oversight

Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Fred Upton
The Washington Times
11/27/2010

In his January 1989 farewell address to the nation, President Reagan warned, “Man is not free unless government is limited. … There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.” Earlier this month, we saw countless Americans heed Mr. Reagan’s warning, turning out in droves to cast their vote in defense of liberty.

The new majority in Congress certainly has its work cut out to undo the big-government havoc that was wrought during the Democrats’ one-party reign over the past two years. Unemployment hovers just below 10 percent. The role of government in the economy has exploded, and rampant spending has ballooned the debt to nearly $14 trillion, putting our nation on the brink of financial disaster.

Americans now live under laws that force people to buy health insurance under fear of harsh penalty; a litany of regulations pursued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies have given businesses incentives to move jobs overseas; and an army of “czars” have been appointed by the administration who have broad, sweeping powers and none of the accountability of traditional Cabinet members. This drastic expansion of government and contraction of liberty has occurred without any real oversight from Democrats in either chamber of Congress.

Americans demand accountability, and the House Oversight and Government Reform and Energy and Commerce committees must work cooperatively together in a new Congress to deliver the oversight that is necessary. During the final two years of the George W. Bush administration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Oversight Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman eagerly exerted Congress‘ oversight authority. These oversight inquiries included requests for reams of documents and demands for Cabinet secretaries and agency heads to testify under oath. Programs and executive actions were subjected to close and often openly hostile scrutiny.

We have not seen the same enthusiasm for oversight since the Obama administration has taken the helm. Not surprisingly, the job economy has worsened, government spending is at an all-time high, and federal agencies are rampantly codifying more regulations that further penalize and discourage private investment and the hiring of new employees. Congress‘ constitutional role as a check on the power of the administration has been lost in the sprint to increase the role of government.

Our Founding Fathers were explicit in demanding that the House of Representatives provide a check on the power of the executive branch. Over the past two years, the Pelosi-controlled Congress has been derelict in this duty, defying the will and expectation of our Founders.

Now that Republicans have recaptured the House, we think it is time for a fundamentally different approach in the defense of liberty. Committees with significant oversight duties must work together to block agencies from freely passing regulations that have no regard or concern for the potential damage to job growth and the economy. As we work to repeal and replace legislation passed by the outgoing Democratic Congress, we will not allow the administration to make broad interpretations that make poorly designed laws that much worse. Committees in the new Republican Congress must use their hearing rooms as forums to let citizens know how broken big government kills jobs and affects their lives. After two years of operating in the shadows, it is time for officials to answer questions – we cannot allow them to hide behind their desks and obfuscate any longer.

Administration officials who negotiated the health overhaul behind closed doors with special interests and are now responsible for its implementation will no longer be able to conspicuously avoid Capitol Hill. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will soon have to return to reality and explain how the administration plans to uphold its promise that those who liked their health plans could keep them under this law. It should make for interesting testimony, considering the cold facts that insurance providers are dropping child-only plans, Medicare Advantage plans are being reworked drastically or eliminated, and the administration’s own chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is reporting that as many as 14 million Americans could lose their employer-provided health care by 2019. Truth-telling sessions about the real cost of this deeply flawed government intervention will increase pressure for repeal.

This administration’s rampant regulations are also inflicting real harm on our economy. Americans have a right to know how flawed government regulations can kill job-creation efforts. EPA’s circumvention of Congress in enacting costly new rules may devastate our economy and send us into a prolonged recession. Its revised ozone standard alone could cause up to 7 million jobs to be lost and cost businesses upward of $1 trillion annually. Congress must work aggressively to ensure that the EPA does not implement a backdoor energy tax.

Americans rightly expect that the 112th Congress will usher in a new era of oversight as well as an end to the freewheeling days of an unchecked Obama administration. We expect our economy to be better for it. As senior members on our committees, we commit ourselves to ensuring that the Oversight Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee work cooperatively with each other and other House committees to conduct oversight and rein in the explosive expansion of government that we have endured over the past two years. Together, we pledge to work to restore and defend the individual liberty President Reagan so eloquently linked to the principle of limited government.

Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, is ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, is a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and is the front-runner to be the committee’s next chairman.