If incoming Chairman Jason Chaffetz made just one thing clear Tuesday, it's this: The Oversight and Government Reform Committee is not Darrell Issa's anymore — in fact, Issa won't even be on the committee next year.
Chaffetz gathered roughly a dozen reporters in his new Rayburn office Tuesday to discuss the 114th Congress and his vision for the Oversight panel, one that focuses less on political scandals and more on the "government reform" part. And it was evident to everyone present the Utah Republican has a dramatically different vision for the panel than that of his predecessor. "Sometimes you just want a different approach," Chaffetz said. "And again, it's not to say that the other one was bad, I just wouldn't do it that way."
Chaffetz said 60 percent of the roughly 60-person staff for the panel will be new in the 114th Congress, meaning many of the old committee hands will be looking for jobs. That didn't seem to bother Chaffetz. Asked where those staffers would end up, the new chairman had a short response: "Hopefully somewhere good."
Chaffetz defended the personnel changes, and he said turnover was part of the process for a committee with a new chairman.
"Turnover is good," he said. "It's part of the reason that we have term limits on chairmen. You just — you're supposed to come in and reshuffle the deck, get some new fresh thinking."
Part of that reshuffle, Chaffetz said, would be a more collaborative approach with Democrats on the committee, though Chaffetz isn't quite making any promises in that regard. He suggested it was likely Republicans would still issue subpoenas without Democrats' approval and he said Republicans on the committee would probably issue even more partisan reports. "Darrell Issa didn't do many reports," Chaffetz said. "[He] did big press releases."
Another part of Chaffetz's reshuffle: Changes to the subcommittee jurisdictions, along with an entirely new Subcommittee on Information Technology, which will be led by incoming-freshman Will Hurd, a black Republican from Texas' most competitive — and geographically largest — district.
Chaffetz said the IT Subcommittee would have jurisdiction over anything dealing with technology, from NSA data collection to cybersecurity.
Health Care, Benefits and Administrative Rules Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio will also play an enhanced role, Chaffetz said, in looking at the federal rules coming out of the Obama administration. Chaffetz claimed that government officials had issued more than 13,000 rules while Obama was in the White House, with 330 of them fitting the definition of "major rules," meaning they have an economic impact of more than $100 million over 10 years.
As for the rest of the committee, Chaffetz said nine of the 24 Republican members on the panel will be freshmen, and Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming will lead the Interior Subcommittee; Mark Meadows will oversee the Government Operations panel; and John L. Mica of Florida has the Transportation and Public Assets Subcommittee, which will now have jurisdiction over the Transportation Security Administration.
Chaffetz made it clear that he wants to continue with Secret Service oversight and State Department issues, but he said Oversight won't be "doing anything" on the 2012 Benghazi attacks. "That's all Trey Gowdy," Chaffetz said, referring to his good friend, the Benghazi Committee chairman.
Chaffetz also said Oversight will tackle the Environmental Protection Agency, a U.S. Postal Service overhaul and Obamacare oversight — with particular attention to the comments from Affordable Care Act consultant Jonathan Gruber. "He's in my top 10," Chaffetz said. "Are you kidding'? He's an all-star."
Chaffetz also said he wants to address the Freedom of Information Act and the difficulties many have in getting the executive branch to comply with FOIA requests.
But don't expect Chaffetz to fight for autonomy for the District of Columbia, which Chaffetz's committee has jurisdiction over.
"Washington, D.C. is not a state," Chaffetz said. "And Congress does play a role. And usually that's only if there's a real problem."
He did say that, "phew," D.C. recreational marijuana use had been "taken care of" in the just-passed spending bill, and that he supported blocking a ballot measure in the district to legalize marijuana.
"Washington, D.C. has a lot to offer. Recreational marijuana shouldn't be one of those things," he said.
"They are not a state, and I do not support statehood," Chaffetz continued, and said if he had to support anything, it would be for D.C. to retrocede into Maryland, though that issue did not make his "top 1,000."
Overall, Chaffetz presented an approach that would rely more heavily on the subcommittees, and would take him out of the spotlight more. "It's not the 'Jason Chaffetz Show,'" he said. And Chaffetz, who is just the fifth lawmaker in 89 years to be chairman of a full committee in just his fourth term , said he wanted to remembered on the panel for his fairness.
"I just want to be fair," he said. "You know, at the end of the day, I want people to look back and say, 'That was tough, but it was fair.' And I think that's — six years from now that's what I want to look back and see."
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