If there was one thing that the American people voted for in the midterm elections, it was to restore checks and balances in our government. Ok, maybe healthcare was the #1 reason, but having a Congress that conducted oversight was a super close #2.
The founders of our country envisioned a government run by three co-equal branches. Each one had some kind of power to check the other two. Historians argue that Congress, by virtue of being filled with legislators chosen by the people, was the most important of the three. But as we saw in the last Congress where both the House and Senate were under GOP majority rule, there was little to no oversight of the President and the Executive Branch.
Now that the Democrats are the majority party in the House, you’re going to see a lot more oversight. Today, let’s do a brief overview of what the House Committee on Oversight and Reform does. You’ve likely seen this Committee in the headlines because it was just announced that Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, will be testifying in front of it on Feb. 7.
What is the Committee’s charge?
Broadly speaking, the Oversight Committee looks into what the President and several federal agencies are doing. They have the most expansive authority to investigate the current administration. They need to know what the President is doing; how programs across the administration are being run; how money is being spent; and if officials are obeying the law.
The committee currently has several subcommittees that look into the following areas:
✦ national security
✦ information technology
✦ interior, energy, environment
✦ government operations
✦ intergovernmental affairs
Bills are also introduced and discussed in the Oversight Committee. They deal with laws needed involving compensation for federal employees, almost all issues related to the city of Washington DC, holidays, national archives, the postal system, executive branch reorganizations, etc.
The Committee’s authority flows from several places, including the Constitution, public laws, and House rules.
Who is the Committee Chair?
Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) is the new Chair of the Committee. Read a great article about him HERE. He follows Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) who of course is famous for using his oversight powers to … investigate how the FBI and the Justice Department handled their probes of Hillary Clinton’s emails. He ended that investigation in December with a one-page memo stating they didn’t find anything improper.
What can we expect from the Committee going forward?
Rep. Cummings is not a showboater. But he means business. In the very few interviews he has granted, he has been clear about his disdain for the president and his official’s penchant for lying, and has been visibly frustrated that the Republicans have not been fulfilling their oversight role while in the majority.
The first thing he did was to resubmit over 50 letters requesting information to the Trump administration which had been ignored during the previous 2 years. While the Republicans refused to use their subpoena power to compel the administration to give them the documents, Cummings has said he will use that power when necessary.
Issues that they had tried to investigate in the last Congress that Cummings has signaled he wants to continue to pursue include:
✦ conversations officials had with the president about the Russia investigation
✦ Flint water crisis
✦ security clearances for Jared Kushner, among others
✦ Cabinet secretary travel
✦ misconduct at the EPA under former Sect. Scott Pruitt
Going forward, Cummings has also indicated he wants to look into:
✦ looking into issues around the opioid crisis and hold hearings on prescription drug price increases
✦ hearings into various aspects of HR1, the Democrats’ first bill in the 116th Congress to tackle voting rights, election security, presidential tax returns, campaign finance, etc.
✦ family separations at the border
✦ the president’s interactions with foreign governments
How to stay on top of what the Committee is doing
This is the first in a short series on the key House Committees. Other posts covered the Ways and Means Committee, the Intelligence Committee. the Judiciary Committee, and the Financial Services Committee.