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Cummings Urges Cautious Path for Oversight

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings says he wants to defend the Obama administration against unfair attacks, but mostly he believes he is defending the committee’s traditions and integrity.

One area of prime importance for Cummings is the foreclosure crisis that has hit his Baltimore County district particularly hard. While the panel did hold a field hearing at Cummings’ law school alma mater, the eight-term lawmaker wants the Oversight panel to go further in its investigation of banks and financial service providers involved in the foreclosure crisis. Cummings has asked Issa to subpoena six financial institutions regarding foreclosure practices.

“I don’t think we went far enough,” Cummings said of the foreclosures hearing that Issa granted at his request. “We sort of seem to stop as soon as we get where we need to be investigating the banks and the servicers. That means that we don’t have a thorough investigation,” Cummings said.

Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said that Cummings’ request is under discussion and that the “Chairman is taking the ranking member’s request very seriously.”

The ranking member also said he would like to investigate gas speculation, the availability of sufficient medical supplies and worker shortages, particularly in the health care field.

The Maryland Democrat acknowledged the historically tense environment on the panel, which gets worse when there are opposing parties controlling the House and the White House.

Cummings was seen as the most effective defender of Obama and leap-frogged more senior Democratic lawmakers to fulfill that role when he assumed the ranking member position. Yet he said his long-standing support for the president, including endorsing him over then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primary and when he co-chaired the 2008 Obama/Biden campaign in Maryland, does not necessarily mean unconditional protection.

“I never saw myself as being a defender of the administration, but I did want to make sure that I was a defender of fairness. There is a big difference,” Cummings said.

And while the 30-year political veteran said he isn’t naive about the political undertones of the powerful panel, Cummings said he had hoped to move beyond partisanship.

So far, that has rarely happened. Since the organization of the panel, Cummings and Issa have disagreed on everything from proper use of the committee’s subpoena power to whether the minority would be allowed to give opening statements at hearings.

Despite the disagreements, Cummings said he wanted “real oversight and reform where we don’t necessarily leave our political hats at the door, but at least we take our shoes off, so that you can get to do some things that you agree on.”

He added: “I’m not new to politics. I understand that we are not in control of the House. I get that. But we still have a committee that is supposed to serve a certain function and has certain unique powers and I think we need to use those powers.”

The Maryland Democrat repeatedly mentioned Issa’s mission statement on the purpose of the committee. “It talks about two people — Americans and taxpayers, period. And so I want to be clear that I’m just trying to hold the committee to this document,” Cummings said.

Cummings described his interactions with Issa as a “working relationship,” but he said he believed the panel “could have done better” to have lived up to its mission.

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