Outside editorial: GOP, don't overreach

Posted: Sunday, November 21, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Chicago Tribune:

Republicans are sweeping back into control of the U.S. House of Representatives, with one influential congressman pledging to root out misconduct in Washington. Just days after the Nov. 2 election, Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Republican of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, trumpeted his aggressive plans for scores of hearings and investigations. "I want seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks," he told Politico.

Whew - 280 hearings on a wide range of subjects such as the bank bailout, the stimulus, the housing meltdown and maybe the new health care law.

How dandy for C-SPAN addicts and insomniacs.

Our advice to Issa and Republicans who may want to crank up politically charged investigations now that they'll be back at the helm in the House: Don't squander this opportunity - and your credibility.

Instead, take cues from Tuesday's conviction of Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York. Focus on ethics and corruption probes, not on political vendettas. Rangel's case was a useful model in some ways. But not in others.

Good: House investigators uncovered a mountain of evidence against Rangel. None of it was disputed. A House ethics subcommittee found him guilty of violating 11 House rules, including failure to declare rental income and misuse of a rent-controlled apartment.

Bad: Democrats let the case slog on for two years, miraculously wrapping it up two weeks after Rangel was safely re-elected.

Think voters would have factored Rangel's disgrace into their decision? We do.

So what can we expect from Issa as he prepares to chair the House oversight committee? Before the election, Issa sounded reasonable and restrained. He told The Wall Street Journal that if Republicans took control of the House, he wouldn't barrage the White House with subpoenas or stage showboat hearings. "That's not my plan at all," he said.

The day after the election, though, he said he wants to arm federal inspectors general with subpoena power to ensure agencies comply with congressional requests for information. "I'm going to make sure the 74 primary inspectors general have the tools to do their job and they have the tools to do their jobs best," he said. "I expect to have the president's support on this."

The scale and scope of Issa's post-election remarks sound like he's in danger of overreaching. He needs to pick his battles carefully, not orchestrate them to punish his Democratic adversaries. We'd like to see the California congressman and his fellow Republicans focus on prosecuting ethics violations, not refighting policy disputes. Find the congressmen who flout ethics rules - the Rangels - in both parties. And don't dawdle like the Dems did in that case.

Voters didn't give Republicans a mandate to punish Democrats for playing politics, such as by muscling through the health care law when they had the votes. If Democrats are to be punished for their political stances, that shouldn't happen in House committee investigations.

It should happen at the polls.



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