In theory, this doesn’t sound so bad.
The Republican who will lead the chief investigative committee in the House is planning to vastly expand scrutiny of the Obama administration by seeking new subpoena powers for dozens of federal agency watchdogs in hopes of using their investigations and his own in an aggressive push to cut spending and shrink the government.
The Republican, Representative Darrell Issa of California, who will take over as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has said the government needs “to go on a diet” to help erase the annual budget deficit of $1.4 trillion. His goal as chairman, he said in a recent speech, is to “focus on places where money can be saved, where we can literally close agencies or subagencies or programs.”
Again, in theory, this is something the opposition party should be doing. They should hold hearings and do investigations of the performance of the federal government’s agencies. In doing so, they may provide a service to the administration by forcing them to be disciplined and, in some cases, to stand up to some of their own interest groups who are distorting public policy. And merely having aggressive investigators on the beat is enough to discourage some forms of corruption. All-in-all, I have no problem with Darrell Issa bulking up on staff in order to ferret out areas of waste. I’m all for a leaner, more efficient government. But, you know what? That’s not what Issa is going to do. You know what he’s going to do?
He’s going to identify programs that the Republicans don’t like and then go after them with all his resources, with no regard for the truth, fairness, or the reputations of hard-working public servants. Remember Shirley Sherrod? It’ll be like that, all the time. The Republicans are inventive and they think differently, so it’s hard to predict what kind of nutty stuff they’ll come up with. One they like to recycle is to go around and find every SSI or Welfare check that gets mailed to a liquor store. A small handful of homeless drunks are crazy like that, and why pay bank fees? Naturally, this justifies getting rid of a silly program based on the principle that all children need basic nutrition and shelter, even if their parents are deadbeats.
The possibilities are endless. Issa already has a wish list.
Mr. Issa has already drawn up a list of big targets: $40 billion a year in fraud or waste in Medicare; tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to the government-controlled mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; $8.5 billion in losses by the Postal Service in the last fiscal year; tens of millions of dollars spent on redundant programs within federal agencies or squandered through corrupt contracting procedures.
What’s funny is that the Republicans could get some support from the administration and the Democrats for all of those issues if they weren’t being used as a partisan cudgel to bash government. I’m a progressive and I don’t support waste and fraud in Medicare (Republicans in Florida seem to reward it), a catastrophic business model at the U.S. Postal Service, redundant programs, stupid contracting practices, or failing to reform GSE’s.
It looks like Boehner and Issa plan on being more disciplined than Newt Gingrich and Dan Burton, so presumably our nation’s watermelons are safe. But our sanity is not. Chairman Issa is going to take Fox News and the right’s fantasies and try to prove them for the Congressional Record. And that can’t be good for anyone’s blood pressure.