We talked yesterday about House Republicans literally investing more in messaging and less in governing. It’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge and appreciate the response from House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office.
To briefly recap, Paul Singer and Jarrad Saffren discovered that, since Republicans took the House majority in January 2011, they’ve reduced policy staff by nearly 20%, while increasing press and communications staff by nearly 15%.
To my mind, it’s a classic example of the Republicans’ transition to a post-policy party: GOP lawmakers are placing less emphasis on governing and more emphasis on public relations.
But that’s not quite how the Speaker’s office sees it.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the numbers are “completely unsurprising. We promised responsible oversight of the Obama administration, and effective oversight requires communicating with the American people.”
In recent years, I’ve argued that congressional Republicans seem to be pretty bad at administrative oversight. But as it turns out, I was apparently missing the more salient point:
Republicans no longer seem to understand what the word “oversight” even means.
Putting aside the parties, policies, and personalities, consider what effective congressional oversight of the executive branch might look like. Presumably, it would involve careful scrutiny, checks and balances, frequent hearings, and a team of lawyers, auditors, investigators, analysts, and subject-matter experts.
Congressional Republicans have spent the last 20 years getting rid of Congress’ lawyers, auditors, investigators, analysts, and subject-matter experts.
Which brings us back to the Speaker’s office, which believes “effective oversight requires communicating with the American people.”
Um, no, actually it doesn’t. Hiring staffers to disseminate the Republican message with taxpayer money is not “effective oversight.” That’s simply not what the phrase means in English. For years, lawmakers from both parties have conducted effective oversight of presidential administrations, even when the public doesn’t hear about the efforts, and without much regard for an aggressive p.r. operation.
That said, the response from Boehner’s office does explain a few things. When the House Republican majority abandons governing to focus almost exclusively on manufactured “scandals” that really don’t stand up well to scrutiny, they’re not embarrassed, and now we know why. They’ve managed to convince themselves that they’re engaged in “effective oversight.”
What an embarrassment.