November 4, 2010 / 10:33 PM / in 7 years

Republicans to crank up oversight of government

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The incoming Republican majority in the House of Representatives is more likely to attack Democrats through highlighting congressional oversight hearings rather than the more rancorous subpoena process, leading Republicans say.

In an e-mail to newly elected House Republicans, Eric Cantor, likely to be the next House majority leader, said the Republican leadership would spotlight oversight findings in floor debates to point up what Republicans say is excessive government spending.

Every week, the Republicans plan to publicize “one major oversight hearing ... that plays into our overall focus on job creation and reducing spending,” Cantor said.

Among likely targets for early oversight efforts are the Obama administration’s financial regulation reform, the healthcare overhaul and environmental controls and government stimulus money, Republican strategists say.

Other high-profile issues some Republican oversight veterans are also discussing include examining public funding of National Public Radio, which recently fired commentator Juan Williams for comments that upset Muslims.

Voters, upset at high unemployment, gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s elections. It was the biggest shift in power since Democrats gained 75 House seats in 1948.

In a traditional tactic in U.S. politics, congressional committees controlled by the party not holding the White House can tie the administration in knots with subpoenas demanding disclosures of massive quantities of documents and summoning witnesses to appear for public grillings.

Democrats aggressively investigated the administration of Republican President George W. Bush after they took Congress in the 2006 elections on issues like the White House political office headed by Karl Rove and Iraq War contracting.

“I think the old adage of what goes around, comes around, may well come into play,” said Michael Madigan, a Washington lawyer who in the 1990s led a Republican Senate investigation into fundraising by President Bill Clinton and fellow Democrats. “Now that power has shifted, you’re going to see more subpoenas rather than fewer subpoenas.”

NO SUBPOENAS ‘LEFT AND RIGHT’

The congressman with the most sweeping oversight portfolio is Republican Representative Darrell Issa, who will chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

But Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Issa, said his “number 1 priority is to get the economy moving.”

To that end, the committee will likely use its oversight powers to ensure the government “works better and more efficiently. We’re not going to be embarking on issuing subpoenas left and right,” Bardella said.

Under committee rules, Issa will have personal authority to issue subpoenas without having to have them approved by a committee majority. His panel has broad authority to investigate almost any aspect of government operations and policy.

Bardella indicated that Issa would likely want to continue tough oversight of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- the government-sponsored enterprises seized by the government at the height of the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Committee investigations that Issa backed over the past two years included probes into whether car manufacturer Toyota was too close to federal regulators and bonuses at Merrill-Lynch. He was among the most active lawmakers pressing the administration for details of the government bailout of insurance giant American International Group.

Editing by Peter Cooney

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