The man in charge of maintaining Democratic control of the House of Representative this fall added a new wrinkle to his argument for why the party will not suffer a repeat of the massive losses that happened in 1994.
To make his case for why Democrats needed to keep their grip on congressional power, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) warned: Should Republicans gain control of the House -- and with it the power of subpoena -- it could send Washington into a form of political paralysis.
"When it comes to subpoena power, we saw the kind of abuses Republican took with subpoena power during the Clinton years," Van Hollen, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an interview with the Huffington Post. "It is certainly part of the picture America should look at when voting. When Republican were last in charge of Congress, that is what they did."
The comments from Van Hollen are the most explicit to date tying the potential of Republican control of the House Oversight Committee (which is subpoena power) to the need for Democrats to head to the polls. In private, both White House aides and congressional leadership have long warned about the dangers in granting Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Cali.) -- the ranking member of the committee -- the power of subpoena.
Issa has already shown a willingness to pursue a wide range of charges against the Obama administration. His loudest complaints have been directed at the mildly controversial offering of administration jobs to Senate Democratic primary candidates: Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn) and former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Granted actual power to compel testimony and produce documents, Issa could cause legitimate headaches for the White House (a la the Clinton years) if not a mild paralysis of the political process. The California Republican has already pledged to significantly ratchet up his inquiries into the administration's conduct should Republicans take control of the House.
In his interview with the Huffington Post, Van Hollen stressed that the party's pitch for reelection does not center on the possible ascendancy of Issa to a position of power; but, rather, the potential for a whole host of divisive GOP lawmakers to take on leadership roles. The choice, he added, is between moving forward with a set of reforms that the Obama administration has implemented or reverting to a familiar cast of characters and stale policy ideas.
"We have already heard from [Rep.] Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who apologized to BP for setting up an escrow fund [to pay spill victims]," said Van Hollen. "Then you have [Rep.] Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), he is the guy who is the point man on the Budget Committee. He has already proposed a budget that would turn Medicare into a voucher program... and he would partiality privatize Social Security. We know what would have happened if people's retirements been in the stock market. They would have been wiped out. And then you have [House Minority Leader] John Boehner (R-Ohio), who today said he would repeal the Wall Street reform bill. So the Republicans are presenting a very clear statement of where they would be."
Such a refrain has become familiar to those following the rapidly intensifying 2010 campaign. And Van Hollen stressed that it would be repeated ad nauseum going forward. This past Sunday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs acknowledged that -- from a purely numerical standpoint -- it's possible that Democrats could lose control of the House of Representatives. The White House Press Secretary clarified that he doesn't actually foresee such a cataclysm. But his candor caused a veritable stir, as well as mounting speculation that the president and House leadership aren't on the same page.
"It has been one of those weeks," Van Hollen acknowledged. "It has obviously been a roller-coaster inside the Beltway. But the takeaway is, we had a productive and positive meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden and the White House team and we had a good discussion about the legislative agenda between now and the end of the year. We are very focused on jobs and the economy and it is very clear that the president will continue to draw a very clear contrast between what the Democrats stand for and our economic agenda versus the Republican agenda."
"In 1994, in all the polls taken, people saw the Republicans as a viable alternative to Democrats," Van Hollen added. "Today they do not feel that way and it is understandable why."
UPDATE: Rep. Issa responds, in a statement sent over from his congressional office.
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, can Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen honestly tell the American people we need less oversight, not more? We have a responsibility to look inward at the litany of waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement and corruption that exists in our own federal bureaucracy. Obviously, the House Democratic Leadership believes that a Democratic Congress should give this administration immunity from legitimate questions and appropriate accountability. Their statements are indicative of the desperate state their Majority is in and if the best case they can make is to caution the American people against the dangers of conducting legitimate and vigorous oversight, they is welcome to make that case. The fact of the matter is oversight should be done vigorously and effectively -- even if it raises uncomfortable questions for the Obama White House and Democratic congressional leaders. All we need to do to know what consequences exist for abdicating our oversight responsibilities is to look at the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.