Rep. Darrell Issa took the reins of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee with one apparent goal in mind: to reward the big corporations that have loyally funded his congressional campaigns. He set off on a seek-and-destroy mission, scouring the law books for rules, regulations, consumer protections and environmental safeguards that might slightly hamper the profits of his favored industries -- no matter the economic, environmental or health costs to ordinary Americans.
Even before the gavel was passed in January, Issa sent a letter to over 150 corporations, asking them which inconvenient rules they wanted scrubbed from the books. The corporations and special interests didn't hesitate to respond to Issa's request, and since that time we have witnessed a steady string of disappointing behavior from the Oversight Committee -- including hearings orchestrated to blast the EPA, shroud corporate donors in secrecy and amplify the Wisconsin Governor's assault on public workers. Issa's faithful deputies have added their own tantrums to the campaign, including Rep. Patrick McHenry's embarrassing attempt to call Elizabeth Warren a liar just this past week.
Fortunately, on the Oversight Committee, Issa has met his match. Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings has been relentless and effective in pushing back against Issa's extreme agenda, and his efforts have gone a long way to preserving whatever shreds of credibility the committee has left.
When Rep. Issa orchestrated an endless parade of energy industry executives and lobbyists to implore the committee to slash environmental safeguards, expand drilling permits and preserve gaping loopholes for controversial hydrofracking loopholes -- all while preserving their $4 billion taxpayer subsidies -- Rep. Cummings produced a damning report exposing the role of speculation in driving up gas prices. Operating by careful economic analysis instead of by political axe-grinding, Cummings proposed an investigation that has the potential to truly benefit Americans -- both in terms of short-term prices at the pump and our long-term energy future.
When Rep. Issa changed Committee policy to treat Obama Administration officials as witnesses sponsored by the Democrats on the committee -- even if they hadn't been requested by them -- and by requiring Issa's personal approval of all minority witness requests, Rep. Cummings challenged this "dangerous policy," and admonished Issa for his arrogant disregard for the minority's right to call witnesses of their choosing. And he joined Rep. Gerry Connolly's call for the Administration to refuse to send any more witnesses until this offensive policy is rescinded.
When Rep. Issa decided to reinstate the practice of issuing unilateral subpoenas in order to embark on witch hunts against the Obama administration, Rep. Cummings condemned that abuse of power, along with many of Issa's predecessors. These subpoenas, he pointed out, were last used during "an era of the committee's history when it was criticized for abusive practices," and Rep. Cummings fought to keep the committee focused on the pressing needs of the American people. While Issa, the co-chair of the Congressional Transparency Caucus, tries to shroud his campaign donors in secrecy, Cummings reiterated his support for stricter transparency requirements for government contractors' political spending in an effort to help Americans understand where their tax dollars really end up.
When Rep. Issa's henchmen have made unfair and politically motivated attacks against committee witnesses, as did Rep. Patrick McHenry during his dishonest attacks aimed at Professor Warren, Rep. Cummings quickly intervened and established himself as the adult behind the dais.
It's unfortunate that the Oversight and Government Reform committee, under Issa's leadership, has functioned thus far as a soapbox for corporate special interests and partisans interested in attacking the Obama Administration. Yet there remain good people who are committed to restoring that body to its role as an important guarantor of governmental transparency and responsibility that is truly accountable to the American people. Ranking Member Cummings is leading the charge.
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