May 20, 2006

Congressional Democrats should be on the offensive

TNR has a good piece up (supersize for the full text) regarding calls for a presumptive Democratic majority in Congress next year to begin impeachment proceedings against el Presidente. While I would love to see the man gone, as TNR astutely points out, it's far more important to restore Congressional oversight of the Executive.

What oversight Republicans have performed has been woefully inadequate. As documented by CQ Weekly in 2004, nearly every time a Republican chairman promises to pursue an investigation, he suddenly loses interest once the cameras turn away. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, once swore to "let the chips fall where they may" in his investigation of prewar intelligence. He then all but gave up on the probe until he was shamed into acting by Democrats. Even self-styled Republican mavericks have been timid. Richard Lugar once promised to use the Foreign Relations Committee to grill senior administration officials about their plan for Iraq. According to CQ, he "declared himself satisfied with lower-level administration witnesses after the higher-ranking ones he wanted refused to show." John McCain, the one Republican who tackled the Jack Abramoff investigation, essentially gave up on the inquiry once it started to threaten his party's pooh-bahs.

Hear Me Now
by the Editors
Post date: 05.19.06
Issue date: 05.29.06

Nancy Pelosi, dare we say, did something smart last week. She told her Democratic colleagues, several of whom have become enamored with the idea of impeaching the president, that, if their party gains control of Congress, impeachment is verboten. "We want oversight and checks and balances," Pelosi's flack told reporters. "Impeachment was never her interest."

These are dismal times for Republicans, and now they are even worse. Pelosi has effectively banished the specter of crazed Democrats returning to power to impeach President Bush, a handy bogeyman for Republican fund-raisers. The truth is, it is not impeachment Republicans fear; it's simply oversight. Since 2001, Congress has sat idle as the executive branch gradually proclaimed new powers for itself, and it has aided and abetted Bush's every failure by refusing to operate as a check on his administration. So, while Democrats are wise to distance themselves from the I-word, they shouldn't be bullied into abandoning promises to aggressively investigate the Bush administration. In fact, they should be running on the issue, not away from it.

GOP control of Congress deserves to end this year, not least because Republicans have abused--and then abandoned--government oversight. Six years of chasing every wild accusation leveled against the Clinton administration have been followed by almost six years of near-total deference to the executive branch. In the Clinton years, a single House committee, Government Reform, issued over 1,000 subpoenas and spent millions of dollars investigating the White House and the Democratic Party. More than two million pages of documents were handed over. In one inquiry alone--the grave matter of the politicization of the White House Christmas list--Republicans took 140 hours of testimony.

Nobody wants to return to those days--except perhaps to experience the sheer delight of watching a congressman solve the Vince Foster "murder" by shooting a pumpkin. But, in terms of congressional oversight, what has followed in the Bush years is even worse than the abuses of the Clinton years: nothing. Congress has brushed off the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. In the rubberstamp House of Representatives, the abuses at Abu Ghraib have merited a total of a dozen hours of sworn testimony. The use of propaganda by government agencies? A collective yawn from the GOP. The housing and urban development secretary's boast of denying federal grants to contractors who dislike Bush? Silence.

What oversight Republicans have performed has been woefully inadequate. As documented by CQ Weekly in 2004, nearly every time a Republican chairman promises to pursue an investigation, he suddenly loses interest once the cameras turn away. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, once swore to "let the chips fall where they may" in his investigation of prewar intelligence. He then all but gave up on the probe until he was shamed into acting by Democrats. Even self-styled Republican mavericks have been timid. Richard Lugar once promised to use the Foreign Relations Committee to grill senior administration officials about their plan for Iraq. According to CQ, he "declared himself satisfied with lower-level administration witnesses after the higher-ranking ones he wanted refused to show." John McCain, the one Republican who tackled the Jack Abramoff investigation, essentially gave up on the inquiry once it started to threaten his party's pooh-bahs.

Other Republicans have turned their committees into ideological tools to curry favor with interest groups. Religious conservatives have been rewarded with hearings on the benefits of faith-based services. Oil companies have been granted investigations about the benefits of drilling in Alaska. Pharmaceutical companies got public testimony about the dangers of buying prescription drugs from Canada. Any subject seems to take precedence over the Bush administration. Among the topics on the agenda of the Government Reform Committee for this Congress are: "Diploma Mills," "New Dietary Guidelines," and "the federal government's migration to Internet Protocol version 6."

Republicans probably thought they were helping the president by abandoning oversight. But, facing no threat of congressional censure, the White House has had little incentive to govern more competently. The ultimate irony is that, after congressional Republicans have defended and protected the administration through all of its mistakes, voters may now take out their anger not on the president, but on his House and Senate enablers. If that happens, we say: Let the hearings begin.
the Editors

Posted by mcblogger at May 20, 2006 01:43 AM

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