At last Monday’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing about a lavish Las Vegas conference for the General Services Administration, cameras clicked rapid-fire and reporters scrambled for seats as a lineup of GSA officials were sworn in. The circus-like atmosphere culminated with one official, Jeff Neely, invoking his Fifth Amendment right, and committee members from both sides of the aisle expressing outrage at the GSA scandal.
Two days later, the mood had passed.
At the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and ranking member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) soberly questioned two witnesses, neither of whom attended the now-infamous conference. Six reporters and a few attendees from the general public sat among dozens of empty seats.
The hearing was over in 53 minutes. Afterward, acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini enjoyed a warm conversation with Durbin and Moran, punctuated by laughter.
A president is often awarded credit and assigned blame for what happens at federal agencies, even when he or his aides had no actual involvement in the decisions made, because the president chooses the political leadership for the agencies.
In this case, Republicans hope that tales of the mismanagement of taxpayer dollars will also cut into popular support for Democratic policy positions, which tend to favor government funding to stimulate the economy.
“I don’t think in [and] of itself the scandal will hurt [President Barack] Obama, but it plays to a larger narrative of his ineptitude at management of our federal dollars. Solyndra, GSA, other green programs all have had significant spending with little to no oversight from appointees made by him,” a GOP aide said.
In responding to the revelations, Democrats have sought to channel blame away from the president.
For instance, less than two minutes into Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer’s opening statement at a Wednesday hearing on the scandal, the California Democrat offered a detailed history of improper actions by GSA officials during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Democrats have largely avoided, at least in public, attacking Republicans for how they are handling the investigation. “I thought the Republicans were fair, yes,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said after a long pause.
To stay in the news, scandals need new revelations to fuel the fire. That can be difficult when allegations are referred to prosecutors, who keep a tight lid on information until they are ready — if ever — to prosecute.