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Campus Notebook: Parties Renew Spat Over Use of Committee Funds

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
A trip to Chicago planned by House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings (above) was denied by panel Chairman Darrell Issa on Friday.

After a public fight in October over how Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee may spend their part of the panel’s budget, a quieter second round is brewing over the same issue.

Exacerbating the situation is a dispute over whether a formal agreement was reached last fall to avoid such disagreements in the future.

“The Democratic staff of the Committee on House Administration is currently examining the specifics of the situation,” Jamie Fleet, Democratic staff director of the panel charged with allocating and overseeing House committee budgets, said in a statement to Roll Call. “The latest decision ... could continue a troubling pattern of denying the minority their rights.”

Earlier this month, Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), ranking member on the panel’s Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census and the National Archives, requested a field hearing or a Democratic-hosted forum on banks that fail to maintain abandoned properties.

With the issue being particularly salient in Chicago, Cummings and Davis wanted to travel there to conduct their events.

But on Friday, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) denied the request on grounds that a full committee hearing on the issue would be better suited for Capitol Hill than Chicago.

Issa also wrote in a letter to the two Democrats that there was no committee precedent for holding minority-sponsored forums off-campus.

“The use of committee funds for public events outside Washington, which are not defined in committee or House rules but are likely to be perceived as an official rule-based committee function, has not been prior practice of this committee and does not constitute an official purpose for which taxpayers’ funds have been appropriated,” Issa wrote.

Democrats contend that Issa is unfairly policing their money in violation of an agreement all chairmen make at the start of each Congress to allow the minority party to control one-third of the budget for various expenses, including work-related travel.

A similar issue came up three months ago, when Issa refused to reimburse Davis for travel expenses incurred during a federal drug control policy forum he had arranged in Illinois.

At that time, Democrats on the House Administration Committee intervened, going public in condemning Issa’s decision and demanding he explain his actions.

Oversight and Government Reform Committee Democrats also say that their counterparts on the House Administration panel were able to facilitate an agreement for dealing with future disputes over the use of travel funds. Issa’s actions run afoul of that understanding, they contend.

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