Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Must-Have Accessory for Spring: Oversight

In a span of fifteen minutes today, a whole slew of subpoenas will be considered for a variety of current and former administration officials, including Condoleeza Rice, Andrew Card and Monica Goodling.

There are so many oversight opportunities to choose from that Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid have appointed staffers to keep track of what fights are being picked and why. Seriously. They have had to appoint scandal coordinators.

Since Democrats assumed control of Congress in January, they have hired more than 200 investigative staffers for key watchdog committees. They include lawyers, former reporters and congressional staffers who left oversight committees that had all but atrophied during the six years that the GOP controlled Congress and the White House. They have already begun a series of inquiries on subjects ranging from allegations of administration meddling in federal scientists' work on global warming and the General Services Administration's alleged work for Republican campaigns to how disproved claims that Iraq had purchased nuclear material from Niger evolved into a case for war.

Democrats have been emboldened, investigators say, by their House and Senate judiciary committee colleagues' inquiries into the firings of U.S. attorneys. Last week's day-long testimony by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, some Democrats said, was a reminder of how rare Cabinet-level grillings had become on Capitol Hill. By the end of today, the Senate Judiciary Committee alone is set to authorize subpoenas for 15 people in the inquiry on the prosecutor dismissals.

"Oversight is just as important, if not more important, than legislation," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The new investigations illustrate just how many questions went unanswered in the six years when Democrats "couldn't hold hearings, we couldn't compel information . . . all we could do was ask for it," he said.

Now, Waxman said, what to tackle next "is something we're always thinking about."

Since the Democrats came to power, nearly 100 research and investigation staffers have been hired to investigate potential violations of congressional rules and federal and state laws. As part of the new culture of accountability that the Democrats campaigned on (and which is our raison d’etre) the Democrats are pushing forward with investigations.

The subpoenas are about to fly. I do believe the events of this week are going to be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

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