With new oversight powers, House GOP aims to put Obama on defensive
Obama has faced little congressional oversight so far, but with House GOP probing into policies ranging from illegal immigration to health care, the president's oversight holiday may be over.
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House Democrats, meanwhile, are moving to counter Issa. They replaced the oversight panel's former chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D) of New York, with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland, a seasoned investigator with a record of working across party lines. Representative Cummings says he is committed to making the process fair and avoiding the oversight frenzy of the Clinton presidency.Skip to next paragraph
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But he is also taking the fight to Issa, who last month invited business groups to tell the panel which federal regulations were obstructing job creation. Cummings told MSNBC on Jan. 4 that the letters amount to an invitation for businesses to "tell us what they want us to do, as opposed to protecting the American people."
Business groups are responding, saying they are concerned about the way that federal agencies – particularly the EPA – are interpreting and implementing federal laws. But Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce, says he does not want headlinemaking hearings that score political points, but rather effective investigations.
"They can hold hearings from now until the cows come home, but the real issue is how they conduct those hearings: There's a smart way to hold them, then there is the witch hunt," he says. "If it's not done correctly, you don't get much done."
Congress doesn't investigate only when the party in the White House is different from the majority party in the House or Senate. Then-Sen. Harry Truman (D) of Missouri caught the attention of President Franklin Roosevelt and the nation with a flawless investigation of defense contracting amid World War II.
Truman told the Senate: "The power of investigation is one of the most important powers of Congress. The manner in which the power is exercised will largely determine the power and prestige of the Congress in the future."
By that measure, recent Congresses have performed poorly, say experts. "In the last 20 years, the investigative process has been used largely to score political points," says Raymond Smock, a former House historian and director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.
Congressional investigations are most effective when they are used to produce good legislation – not just daily revelations for the press. Putting a president "on the hot seat" is not necessarily partisan politics. "If wrongdoing or fraud has occurred, it's Congress's responsibility to look into this," says Mr. Smock, who is editing a series on congressional investigations.
Good investigation "is a slow laborious process, best conducted in the investigative phase out of the public eye," he adds. "You have to see how investigations are conducted and whether they lead to fruitful legislation or simply degenerate into partisan name-calling."