Now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress, there will be a variety of changes Americans will be able to see quite easily, such as President Obama putting his veto pen to good use for the first time in a long while.
But other changes will be far more subtle and will unfold largely behind the scenes. We’ve seen some of this already – GOP lawmakers embraced “dynamic scoring,” for example – but we’re poised to see another shift when it comes to congressional subpoenas.
Regular readers may recall that former House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), near the end of his tenure on the panel, began issuing subpoenas in an unusually aggressive way. Ordinarily, when a committee is weighing whether to issue a subpoena, its members are supposed to debate the issue and vote, but Issa decided to streamline the process – whenever he felt like subpoenaing someone, he simply did it unilaterally. No debate, no vote.
Jennifer Bendery reported this week that Republicans leaders have decided they like this model, too.
House Republicans are quietly moving to give unilateral subpoena authority to at least seven committee chairmen, a shift from longstanding rules that have required a full committee vote to issue a subpoena. The change would allow GOP chairmen to issue subpoenas without input from Democrats, letting them challenge nearly all of President Barack Obama’s signature accomplishments, including the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, immigration reform and environmental protections.Congressional committees have the ability to issue subpoenas to compel witness testimony or to obtain documents. But until recently, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee was the only committee where a chairman unilaterally issued subpoenas. Now, as more chairmen have begun signing up for unilateral subpoena authority, Democrats fear that Republicans plan to bury agencies in congressional requests for information so they can’t get their work done.
A House Democratic aide told the Huffington Post everyone should get ready for two years of “re-litigating everything.”
Politico had a good report on this yesterday, too.
The change means that, in a break from years of tradition, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) wouldn’t need to consult with his panel’s top Democrat before subpoenaing documents or witnesses about issues like Obamacare or the Environmental Protection Agency. The GOP is also proposing similar boosts in authority for Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), whose panel’s jurisdiction includes the Dodd-Frank financial regulations law, and for Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who will oversee any probes into immigration.Two other panels – Agriculture and Science, Space and Technology – are considering making the same change.
For all the talk about congressional Republicans wanting to prove they can govern, and moving forward with their own policy agenda, it’s steps like these that suggest the GOP majority is still intent on looking and moving backwards. Indeed, the “Issa Model,” as Democrats call it, was an example of a chairman gone rogue, not a chairman whose over-the-top tactics should be emulated.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office told reporters yesterday, “The Republican playbook is clear: obstruct, distract, subpoena, repeat. This change will inevitably [lead] to widespread abuses of power as Republicans infect the other committees with the poisonous process that Issa has so abused during his chairmanship.”
For those who watch Congress and think, “If only these guys would harass the Obama administration with more subpoenas,” this is terrific news.