Issa's first hearing: TARP scrutiny

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold its first hearing of the 112th Congress on bailouts and the foreclosure crisis on Jan. 26.

The main witness will be Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP). The committee, led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), also invited Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, but the release did not confirm his attendance.

Barofsky will release his quarterly report on the day of the hearing. Previous reports have addressed failures in providing a transparent way to evaluate TARP awards, the continued failure of the government’s Home Affordable Mortgage Program to alleviate foreclosures, and questions surrounding the Treasury Department’s bailout of AIG.

“The Oversight Committee’s first hearing will offer Members the opportunity to question the Treasury Department on concerns that have been raised again and again by SIGTARP Barofsky,” Issa said in a statement. “TARP was conceived by a Republican Administration, approved by a Democratic Congress, and has operated for two years under the current Administration. It’s a fitting subject for bipartisan oversight in the new Congress.”

Rep. Elijiah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the panel, had requested that the first hearing focus on recent and continuing reports of widespread flawed and fraudulent foreclosure practices by the nation’s largest banks. In recent months, the state attorneys general of Arizona and Nevada have filed lawsuits alleging fraud by at least one bank against homeowners.

While clearly substantive and focused on whether taxpayer dollars were squandered in bank bailouts during the height of the economic crisis, the choice of the first hearing shows Issa’s intent to scrutinize the administration’s economic policies and programs. Cummings had preferred to launch hearings with a more consumer-oriented focus with the goal of providing immediate relief to homeowners beset by foreclosures.

Cummings sent a letter to Issa on Tuesday calling on him to avoid “silly and absurd” hearings and pursue “balanced investigations that seek out the truth rather than launching one-sided inquiries designed to fulfill predetermined outcomes.”

In the letter, Cummings also took issue with Issa's use of taxpayer funds for unofficial committee activities, which was reported in a New Yorker profile released this week. The article mentions a “highly organized” effort to manage Issa’s image, which aides refer to as “Issa Enterprises.” Another effort, which aides call “Oversight Productions,” refers to a series of YouTube videos Issa links to his Twitter account and official website.

Issa’s office punched back Tuesday, accusing Cummings of engaging in obstructionism and failing to be a “serious” oversight partner.

“This letter and other statements have only underscored concerns that Ranking Member Cummings is not interested in being a serious partner on oversight,” said Issa spokesman Frederick Hill.

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