Oversight chiefs vow to bury hatchet

The heads of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday vowed to cross party lines and work together in the new Congress, after spending two highly charged years taking political shots at each other.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee’s chairman, pledged to meet weekly with the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), in an effort to set a bipartisan legislative agenda that will cut wasteful spending and strengthen government accountability.

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“We now need to focus on legislative agenda and specific metrics that will allow us to find targeted savings in the federal system that do not compromise the health and welfare of America or the legitimate pay and benefits of the federal workforce,” said Issa at the committee’s first organizational meeting.

“I believe, to do that, we’re going to have to work together in a way that we did not in the previous Congress.”

“It is my intention to work very very hard in a bipartisan effort to find those areas both Republicans and Democratic members can agree that we should prioritize the search for legitimate savings in the federal workforce and the elimination of waste, fraud, and abuse in government," Issa said.

Bad blood may still be lingering under the surface of the renewed calls for bipartisan agreement, however.

Issa led a successful vote last year to place Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over Justice Department documents in response to a committee subpoena. Issa spent much of the year proudly acting as a thorn in the Obama administration’s side, launching numerous investigations into embarrassing instances of wasteful spending.

The gloves had been off between the committee heads from the very first meeting in 2011, however, when Cummings slammed Issa for not vowing to consult with Democrats on subpoenas or give the minority access to documents the majority receives through its investigations. The initial divisions were never bridged for long throughout the entirety of the 112th Congress.

“During the last Congress, much of our committee’s work seemed to be colored by politics, and perhaps that was inevitable,” said Cummings at Tuesday’s meeting. “During this Congress, however, we have a new opportunity to reset our agenda and to focus on actually improving the lives of those we serve.

“Accomplishing these goals will require serious effort on both sides — Democrats and Republicans alike," he said.

In an attempt to start over, Issa and Cummings met privately last week and talked about “a number of ways” they could work together.

Cummings said he was encouraged by the conversation and asked Republicans on the committee, which have a two-thirds majority, to regularly consult with minority members. In exchange, Cummings vowed to support the Republican efforts and seek out areas of compromise.

"We will support the Committee’s authority and prerogatives, particularly with the agencies that our Committee oversees," said Cummings. "When we disagree, we pledge always to express our disagreement respectfully."

“We want your first instinct in all matters relating to the Committee to be to consult with us and to consider seriously what we have to say,” Cummings said. “I have served as both a chairman and a ranking member, and I understand that it is easy to simply ignore the minority. Easy, but not always wise.”

Republican and Democratic staff members for the Oversight panel have already been meeting to find potential areas of bipartisan investigation and legislation, and both Issa and Cummings indicated that the staff would lead the way in developing a respectful relationship between members of both parties.

This story was updated at 4:28 p.m.