As of late, there has been much speculation about what Congressional oversight would look like under the leadership of a Republican Congress. As the Ranking Republican Member of the House's chief oversight committee, I'm frequently asked what the agenda of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform would be if I were fortunate enough to be its Chairman.
The answer is simple. Work Republicans have already done in the minority already demonstrates that oversight of BOTH the bureaucracy and corporate America can be done simultaneously, vigorously and effectively. I have made no secret of my desire to bolster the efforts of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee by calling for an increase in the number of Committee investigators so that we can aggressively oversee a bureaucracy that has grown in size, scope and responsibility.
Unsurprisingly, partisan Democrats such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) have embarked on what can only be described as a smear campaign, seeking to manipulate the American people into believing some fictitious scenario exists where corporate America gets a free pass for wrongdoing while the Committee besieges the defenseless Obama White House with, as they put it, "subpoenas and an eighty person staff to launch tax payer funded witch hunts against the President."
In a fundraising solicitation sent on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tried to appeal to supporters by warning of the "endless investigations against President Obama, while continuing to put corporate special interests first." Obviously, Speaker Pelosi believes that a Democratic Congress should give this administration immunity from legitimate questions and appropriate accountability. Her statements are indicative of the desperate state her Majority is in and if the best case she can make is to caution the American people against the dangers of conducting legitimate and vigorous oversight, she is welcome to make that case.
The reality is we have a government that is spending us into oblivion (and has crested few jobs to show for it) and has over-run private enterprise - even going so far as to seize control of some corporations. For the moment, we'll let the Democrats and their operatives explain why they don't see the need for more oversight and accountability from the Federal government.
If it's a debate on oversight they want, I welcome it with open arms. Let them defend why this Administration or any other Administration should not be subject to vigilant oversight. Let the Democrats defend why the bureaucracy they grew should be free from scrutiny.
In the meantime, for a real indication of what the Oversight Committee's agenda would look like in a Republican majority, what's past is prologue.
The last time Republicans had subpoena power was in 2006, where as a subcommittee Chairman I used it to compel the testimony of oil executives and their cozy relationship with the Minerals Management Service (MMS) - the federal entity charged with over-seeing oil companies and their drilling activities. I brought the oil executives before my subcommittee outraged that their pockets were being lined with billions of dollars that rightfully belonged to taxpayers that had been lost due to a failure of management and leadership at MMS. This investigation, however, was never completed. Why? Because upon taking control of the Congress, then-Chairman Henry Waxman, shut the investigation down. Score one for big oil.
In September of 2008, when Congressional Democrats and some Republicans joined the Bush Administration's misadventure into bailing out corporate America, I fought against it and said at the time: "As disturbing as the volatility and turmoil on Wall Street are, the prospect of transferring trillions of dollars of risk and losses to taxpayers is appalling. How can any American look their neighbor in the eye and suggest that they should bear the losses for the mistakes and greed of America's wealthiest financial firms? I am emphatically against it."
When the Committee began investigating AIG's backdoor bailout of its counterparties in March of 2009, I said, "The taxpayers essentially own AIG and deserve answers about how leadership at AIG and in the Federal Government is running their company."
In April of this year, when General Motors launched a series of deceitful ads mis-representing their obligation to the American taxpayers, I said, "[GM's] false statements may expose GM to millions of dollars in damages, further reducing the value of the taxpayer-owned company. The American people, as the majority shareholders of GM, have a right to know the truth behind the cost of the GM bailout and GM's genuine financial condition."
When it became clear that Toyota had put the priority of profit above the safety of America's drivers, I demanded that they be subpoenaed and that their President, Akio Toyoda, appear and testify at a public hearing. On February 18th, I said, "If we are not receiving the cooperation and transparency this Committee and the American people are demanding from Toyota, I would fully support the issuance of a subpoena. Whether it is for a microprocessor engineer or the top executive, we have a duty to determine what Toyota knew, when they knew it and if they met their full obligation of disclosure to U.S. regulators and the American people."
The bottom line is, Congressional oversight of private enterprise will never replace the need for oversight of government, however, when there are legitimate questions and clear cases of wrong-doing by corporations, we should not hesitate to pursue a course of action that brings the truth to light and holds people accountable.
At the same time, the primary purpose of the Oversight & Government Reform Committee is to shed disinfecting sunlight on waste and abuse in government and push for reform so that government better serves main street Americans. Failure to do so can result in some very real, sobering and irreversible consequences. The catastrophe in the Gulf could have been averted had vigilant oversight of both industry and government regulators been pursued. The bottom line is no President, political party or private enterprise should dictate the level of our commitment to oversight. The human cost of allowing such interference is too great.