A strong commitment to congressional oversight is a welcome goal. But the approach incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, isn’t the way to restore public confidence in government efficiency and ethics.
Issa--who called President Obama the “most corrupt [president] in history,” later amending it to the equally absurd charge that Obama is leading an administration that is “one of the most corrupt in history”--has a chance to do some good. But unfortunately, he seems focused on issues that are more about building a Republican brand and re-fighting legislation that already has been signed into law and is being implemented. [See editorial cartoons about the GOP.]
He wants to “investigate” how government regulation is strangling job creation. That isn’t oversight; that’s political and economic philosophical debate. Or is he planning to call in people who lost their jobs after largely unregulated Wall Street ran the economy into the ground? Or maybe the families of the oil rig and mine workers who lost not just their jobs, but their lives, working in sketchily-regulated industries?
Issa wants to investigate the stimulus program, and it’s difficult to see the point. We know the GOP didn’t like it. We know the effort hasn’t worked as well as many had hoped, in creating jobs. But that’s a political fight, not an ethical one. [See editorial cartoons about the economy.]
Americans are right to be upset over the lack of genuine oversight in Congress. The failure to truly oversee the build-up to the Iraq War has tainted lawmakers in both parties. Government contracting, while not a headline-grabbing or voter-inspiring topic, is in grievous need of oversight and serious examination. The WikiLeaks episode, which Issa wants to investigate, is worthy of examination, but as an issue of whether and how to control information on the Internet--not as a propaganda tool to convince voters Democrats aren’t committed to national security. [Read more about national security, terrorism and the military.]
Democratic leaders, with a nudge from the Obama administration, declined to hold investigative hearings on past behavior of the Bush administration. The theory was that while such hearings would be cleansing for the left, they would achieve no usable result. The nation had enough problems, and the Obama White House was more interested in looking forward instead of backwards.
Investigations don’t have to be political, even if the people with subpoena power are in the party in opposition to the White House. Nor must they be weak when the same party occupies the White House and controls one or both chambers of Congress. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, both Republicans, still managed to undertake deep investigations into matters involving the Bush administration. Grassley, in particular, stands out as someone who chose matters to investigate that were not politically hot, but which raised serious questions about how well the federal government was doing its job.
The topics Issa is highlighting suggest a majority more interested in politics than true oversight. Maybe someone should investigate that.