House Republicans counter criticism by touting their oversight activites

Looking to counter Democratic claims that the Republican-led Congress has been soft on the Bush administration, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to release a detailed report today highlighting committee oversight of government programs during the 109th Congress.

The 61-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill, highlights the oversight activity of 14 House committees. It is being released as part of a “spring-cleaning” drive that includes floor consideration of the line-item veto and a “sunset commission” to scrap government programs that are deemed ineffective.

The report, which was prepared by Boehner’s staff in the majority leader’s office, highlights government programs that have been cut or reorganized as the result of committee oversight.

Democrats have criticized congressional Republicans during President Bush’s tenure in the White House, saying that the GOP has failed to conduct proper oversight of the administration, particularly the buildup to the war in Iraq.

The report focuses largely on program cuts and other spending issues that have become a large part of the GOP’s election-year reform plank. The report mentions everything from congressional approval late last year of a bill trimming $39 billion in mandatory spending to a decision by appropriators to scrap the Capitol Police’s mounted patrol, which cost $200,000 annually.

Democrats have vowed to hold the Bush administration more accountable if they take control of Congress. In an interview with The Hill last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Republicans “have been delinquent” in conducting oversight of the Bush administration.

A Republican leadership aide wrote in an e-mail that the spring-cleaning drive was initially suggested by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and is intended to revolve around a number of hearings that would coincide with passage of some “good government” measures.

Heeding the Speaker’s recommendations, Boehner asked his chairmen to hold those hearings and produce accompanying legislation. Leadership staff then decided to incorporate the oversight report as part of that effort during a series of later meetings, according to the same aide. Boehner’s staff worked with the relevant committees to produce this report.

“The federal government today is far larger and far more expansive and intrusive than the Founding Fathers ever envisioned it would be,” begins the introduction of the report. “As the size and scope of government has ballooned, so has the potential for waste, fraud, and abuse in the use of the tax dollars the American people entrust to their leaders.”

The report is broken down by committees, with a listing of each panel’s oversight accomplishments for the Congress. Appropriations Committee, for example, eliminated 53 federal programs at a cost of $3.5 billion. Among those were a higher-education agrosecurity program (listed at $5 million), a high-speed rail program ($19 million) and the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator ($4 million).

The report also lists a number of social programs eliminated during the appropriations process, such as $4 million from a safe-schools initiative, $125 million from a community-college access program and an $80 million healthcare fraud-and-abuse program. In addition, the report highlights investigations of the national Head Start program and mismanagement of anti-poverty programs.

Oversight into the slow federal, state and local response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina also plays a prominent role in the assessment.

Under homeland security, the report includes a comprehensive review of the $20 billion in federal funding to aid recovery in New York immediately after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The section also mentions an investigation of Shirlington Limousine and Transportation Inc., a shuttle bus and limousine service that was awarded two federal contracts worth $25 million. Its owner has been linked through press reports to the scandal that brought down incarcerated former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.).

Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman Pelosi, criticized the report as incomplete because there is no mention of Iraq or the controversial Medicare prescription-drug program.

“Republicans spent more time and energy trying to convince themselves they do oversight than actually upholding their responsibility to oversee the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on the war and reconstruction in Iraq, the Medicare prescription drug program, or on skyrocketing energy costs,” Crider wrote in an e-mail.