GOP Marches to Its Own Oversight Drum

Traditional Minority Ploy Resumes

Posted December 1, 2009 at 6:31pm

House Republicans are beginning to embrace what has become something of a minority right of passage: If you can’t get the majority to agree to your hearing request, hold your hearing anyway.

Tired of being told by Democratic committee chairmen that their hearing requests can’t be honored, Republicans are increasingly holding minority-only hearings — called forums because of the lack of Democratic presence — on issues that they believe are worthy of being gaveled to order.

By their own accounts, House Republicans have spent the entire first year of the 111th Congress completely locked out of the legislative process by the Democratic majority.

And what’s worse, they say, is the fact that the majority has repeatedly rebuffed GOP requests for more transparency and a greater degree of oversight of the administration and laws enacted by a Democratic Congress.

Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking members of the Judiciary and House Oversight and Government Reform committees, respectively, hosted the most recent of these minority-sponsored forums Tuesday.

Smith and Issa said they felt compelled to host their forum on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now because Democrats have ignored their repeated requests for their committees to exercise true oversight over the group in the traditional committee setting.

“For months, Republicans have been calling on our Democratic counterparts to investigate the very serious allegations against ACORN,— Smith said during his opening remarks. “Today’s hearing is an opportunity for Republicans to move forward on an issue of importance to the American people: determining whether taxpayer dollars have been allocated to an organization engaged in illegal conduct.—

[IMGCAP(1)]Issa said he preferred to have a bipartisan hearing but that the allegations against ACORN were too serious to allow them to be ignored by the Democratic majority.

“Today’s government-sponsored forum will again attempt to shed light on this abuse in spite of the fact that at the present time it is, by definition, necessarily partisan. … We would like this to be appropriately nonpartisan,— Issa said.

Smith, Issa and several other Republican Members who attended the forum said President Barack Obama has ties to ACORN, giving the majority ample reasons to decline to have hearings on the issue.

“I regret that this forum today is necessary because in fact the Oversight and Judiciary committee chairmen have refused to do the kind of oversight that needs to be done,— Issa said.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who spoke from behind a large bucket full of acorns, said, “This Congress needs to do a full-court press— on the activities of ACORN.

The precedent for the minority-sponsored forum is well-established in the House and the Senate.

A spokeswoman for the Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee did not return a request for comment.

A spokesman for House Judiciary Committee Democrats declined to comment.

During their tenure in the minority, Democrats held hearings on the oversight of the Iraq War in order to keep the public focused and remind them of their discontent during the months before the 2006 elections.

As head of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, Byron Dorgan (N.D.) spear- headed a series of Iraq War oversight hearings because “the lack of oversight— by the then-Republican majority.

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) also held several forums when he served as the ranking member of the committee that he now chairs. One hearing ­­— on allegations that President George W. Bush began the war in Iraq before it was officially voted on in Congress or the United Nations — was held in a tiny room in the basement of the Capitol because Republicans declined to give Democrats access to a larger space.

One GOP Judiciary Committee staffer said several other minority-sponsored forums are in the works on issues such as the closure of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; the Obama administration’s use of “czars—; and media bias against the Republican agenda.

Smith said many of the forums would occur jointly with other Republican ranking members and leaders, but the details were still being solidified.

“We’ve tried time and again to get our Democrats to hold oversight hearings, but unfortunately they have refused — likely because they have no incentive to conduct oversight on their own administration,— the staffer said. “The forums are a way to continue getting our Members on the record on issues that are important to conservative Americans.—

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.