Senate Democrats’ plans to significantly beef up the chamber’s oversight of the Bush administration will go well beyond intelligence-gathering activities and President Bush’s prosecution of the Iraq War to include investigations into the Medicare program, alleged censorship of scientists, climate change and potential manipulation of energy markets, according to aides and lobbyists.
Although much attention has been paid to how the Senate will oversee the White House’s efforts to combat terrorism and to win the Iraq War, the planned increase in oversight of domestic agencies could have a much larger impact on both K Street and the 2008 elections.
While a number of lobbying shops represent clients with interests in the administration’s anti-terror efforts and the war, virtually every firm will have clients affected by Congressional investigations of the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other regulatory agencies.
And although the Department of Defense and contractors involved in the war have been implicated in ethics and corruption complaints by liberal watchdogs, the bulk of these cases, most notably the various dealings of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, involved government officials in other agencies, such as the Interior Department and the Government Services Administration.
Meanwhile, a significantly more muscular approach to oversight could help Senate Democrats increase their majority in 2008, especially if corruption and ethics continue to be a major issue for voters.
Senate Democratic aides said new chairmen are only in the early stages of preparing oversight plans for the 110th Congress, and that much of the expected work will not be clear immediately after the start of the new year. However, lawmakers and aides have begun to hint at a number of key areas that will come under scrutiny starting next year.
For instance, incoming Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Thursday that he would hold hearings into the pending insolvency of Social Security and Medicare and would conduct “vigorous” oversight of rising health care costs across the country.
Although incoming Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) still is working out details for his committee’s oversight activities for the next two years, it is widely expected that much of the panel’s time will be spent on homeland security issues, as well as possible hearings on government contracting. Look for the committee to also continue Senate oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, particularly now that his panel also includes FEMA critic Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).
One of the biggest areas of increased oversight will be energy and environmental matters, with the Environment and Public Works and Energy and Natural Resources committees expected to be aggressive in their investigative activities.
A Democratic lobbyist predicted that incoming Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) will focus on federal energy and resource management issues, as well as the private sector, particularly energy markets. “I think you will see [Energy and Natural Resources] oversight hearings and investigations on energy market and trading transparency, [Department of Energy’s] failure to issue energy efficiency rules and cellulosic ethanol loan guarantee rules.” Bingaman also is expected to hold hearings on public-land management, particularly issues relating to the nation’s National Park system and wilderness areas.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.