By Susan Crabtree - 01/18/11 10:35 PM EST
The gloves are coming off on the House committee that will be at the center of Republican attempts to investigate the Obama administration.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, took a jab at his Republican counterpart this week, calling for serious investigations rather than probes that are “silly or absurd.”
Cummings made the remark in a letter to Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Monday spelling out his goals for the committee in the new Congress. He said the panel needs to hold the government accountable while also heeding President Obama's call to elevate political discourse in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
“I want to join you in conducting responsible oversight to ensure accountability in government and effective operation of our nation’s laws,” Cummings wrote. “I also agree with President Obama’s statement last week that ‘a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation.’ Together, I hope we can elevate the level of discourse not only on our Committee, but across the nation."
In the letter, Cummings also questions 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.
“As Ranking Member, my goals are straightforward: I want the Committee to engage in oversight that is regarded as serious rather than dismissed as silly or absurd; to establish strong predicates for investigations rather than making unsubstantiated allegations that waste taxpayer funds; to use Committee resources to inform and educate the American people rather than attacking opponents; and to conduct comprehensive, balanced investigations that seek out the truth rather than launching one-sided inquiries designed to fulfill predetermined outcomes,” Cummings wrote.
Never one to let an attack go unanswered, Issa’s office punched back Tuesday and accused Cummings of engaging in obstructionism and failing to be a “serious” oversight partner.
“Congressman Towns and Congresswoman Maloney were pushed aside in order to have the most effective obstructionist as ranking member,” said Issa spokesman Frederick Hill. “This letter and other statements have only underscored concerns that Ranking Member Cummings is not interested in being a serious partner on oversight.”
The letter is the latest in a series of early jabs between Issa and Cummings. When it became clear that Issa would chair the panel, Democratic leaders pushed Reps. Edolphus Towns (N.Y.) out of the top Democratic post because he had not been aggressive countering Issa while serving as chairman for the past few years. Democrats also passed up Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) in favor of Cummings, for similar reasons — out of fear that she would not be able to go toe to toe with Issa.
Ever since Republicans won back the majority, the media spotlight has fallen squarely on Issa and his plans to investigate all corners of the Obama administration.
This week, Issa announced that his first investigation on the Oversight Committee would be of a Homeland Security Department policy that requires political appointees to review many Freedom of Information Act requests.