WASHINGTON — For an early idea of how the Democratic White House and emboldened House Republicans will get along next year, keep an eye on Vice President Joe Biden and California congressman Darrell Issa.
Biden, the administration's point man touting the economic stimulus, and Issa, the GOP's top House investigator who called White House claims of the program's success a fake, have made peace for now. But will the cooperative spirit last?
Both men have been known for bombastic rhetoric, and there was little reason for them to cooperate while Democrats controlled the House.
But just as the House Republican victory in November forced President Barack Obama to compromise on taxes, it led Biden to a peace pact with Issa that may avoid a torrent of Republican subpoenas.
The Biden-Issa relationship is important to voters, because it can be a harbinger of the political atmosphere going into the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
After an hour-long meeting Nov. 30, the vice president and the California congressman agreed in a joint statement to work together against waste and for transparency in government spending. They agreed to use the lessons learned in tracking economic stimulus spending to find waste in other programs.
The meeting came on the same day Obama and congressional Republicans pledged warily to seek common ground on tax cuts and reduced spending.
Both Issa, incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Biden have much to gain from a smooth start when Republicans take over the House in January.
The White House doesn't want Issa, who will inherit the chairmanship's subpoena power, to use it to flood the administration with demands for information.
Issa doesn't want to be seen as the Republican flame-thrower that many expect him to be, given his many statements and interviews criticizing the administration – especially the $787 billion stimulus program intended to create and save jobs.
Both men remember what happened when Republican Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana headed the oversight panel during the Clinton administration. Burton investigated a Democratic campaign funding scandal, but did it with such partisanship that the inquiry lost credibility.
Republicans, meanwhile, considered Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California too partisan when he led the committee's investigations into the Bush administration.
If the peace agreement holds, Issa could encourage investigations of the administration while sparing himself the image of an extreme partisan. One of his priorities is to give all inspectors general – the nonpolitical watchdogs in each executive branch agency – subpoena authority. Only the Defense Department watchdog has it now.
"I don't need to be looking at every failure of government," Issa says. "I need to be looking at where failure of government needs reform. You bring it back to Congress and we fix it."
Soon after taking office in 2009, Obama announced that Biden would oversee the stimulus spending and meet regularly with Cabinet members, governors and mayors to make sure the job-creating and job-saving program worked. The administration created a website to track spending and let taxpayers see what projects were going on in their neighborhoods.
Biden last month told a conference of government investigators, auditors, analysts and prosecutors that the administration has done an exceptional job of ferreting out fraud, waste and abuse in the program.
In past statements, Issa has strongly disagreed and left the impression he would launch an offensive against stimulus spending if he became the oversight committee's chairman.
In an Aug. 16 report entitled "Public Relations and Propaganda Initiatives," Issa attacked the stimulus Internet site for presenting what he called "fictitious and misleading" figures on jobs saved and created.
Among other reports, he cited a 2009 Associated Press story that found the administration overstated – by thousands – the number of jobs it has created or saved.
The administration tried to make its figures more accurate, but Issa said he still wasn't satisfied. "There is no indication that the current figures are any more reliable than the ones touted by Vice President Biden and subsequently proven to be misleading and deceptive," he said.