A massive effort is under way at both the White House and in Congress to brace for literally hundreds of GOP-led probes, hearings, and subpoenas into allegations of fraud, waste, and possible wrongdoing in the Obama administration.
Republican leaders, frustrated that stacks of their information requests to various federal agencies have gone largely ignored for nearly two years now, say they are willing to wield their newfound subpoena power if necessary to get some straight answers.
The White House is preparing for the investigative onslaught. The Los Angeles Times reports that the administration is considering adding more lawyers to its 20-member Office of Legal Counsel, beefing up the division to bolster its ability to fend off GOP probes.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, tells Politico.com that he wants “seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks.” He's reportedly bulking up his legal staff as well.
Initially, Issa's hearings will focus on how bank-bailout and stimulus money was spent, and possibly how the healthcare overhaul was sold to the American people.
Other oversight targets are expected to include Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's role in the housing meltdown, the Wall Street bailout, Countrywide Financial's VIP loan program, and earmarks approved or requested by the executive branch.
Some political analysts are warning, however, that Republicans would make a major blunder by mistaking that their mandate is to investigate the Obama administration rather than creating jobs.
"GOP leaders are taking a tremendous risk," Democratic pollster and Fox News commentator Douglas Schoen tells Newsmax. "Republicans should focus on jobs and the economy . . . not investigations. It is at their peril if they fail to heed this advice."
A Rasmussen Reports poll of 1,000 likely voters released Tuesday morning suggests Schoen may be right. Forty-four percent of voters said they oppose investigations, compared with 40 percent who think it is a good idea. Not surprisingly, there's a sharp divide among partisan lines, with 66 percent of Republicans in favor of the probes compared with 72 percent of Democrats who oppose them. The independent voters who propelled the GOP to their record gains on Nov. 2 are about evenly split on whether investigations are a good idea.
Several Republican-led committees are expected to convene hearings to critique administration actions. Issa says the House Committee on the Judiciary will handle the investigation into why the Justice Department elected not to pursue apparent voter intimidation against white voters in the New Black Panthers case. One person committee members will want to hear from is Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch who has uncovered sensitive e-mails that suggest Justice Department attorneys decided not to pursue Voting Rights allegations made by Caucasians.
"Documents we’ve uncovered and sworn testimony show that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is making decisions based on race and politics, rather than the law," Fitton tells Newsmax. "And perhaps even worse, top political appointees are covering it up and lying about it. Eric Holder’s job ought to be on the line.
"Right now, Americans can’t trust Justice to fairly administer civil rights and voting laws," he says. "This goes beyond the Black Panthers to how the Department operates on all levels."
Look for several other House committees to get in on the oversight push. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the incoming chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, says he'll use that committee to probe how the Environmental Protection Agency's regulations are hampering job creation.
Also, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who is expected to be chairman of the energy and commerce committee, recently told CNBC that his two priorities will be repealing healthcare and investigating the president's decisions related to energy and the BP oil spill.
"I obviously oversee the Obama administration," Barton said. "[I would] make sure the Cabinet secretaries come before the Congress and explain their priorities in a way that they're not hiding things and certainly we would do health care, energy, the Environment Protection Agency."
But most of the probes, subpoenas, and hearings will come from Issa, who oversees six subcommittees.
Issa appears to be interested in reaching out to the administration, and to the inspectors general, who acts as the watchdogs over the federal bureaucracy.
Sensitive to the importance of keeping the focus on jobs and the economy, Issa has denied that Republicans have any intention of trying to impeach President Obama. He also is backing away from an earlier statement that he would investigate whether the administration broke the law by offering Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a job to get him to drop his primary challenge against incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter.
Monday on “Good Morning America,” Issa walked back allegations he made during the campaign, when he called President Barack Obama "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times. I am not saying that the president is personally corrupt," Issa said.
But Issa's comments left little doubt that he intends to require a level of accountability the administration never had to worry about when it controlled both chambers of Congress.
"This administration received $700 billion worth of walking around money in the stimulus, and used it just that way, a great deal of it used for political payback," Issa alleged on the show. "You can't have money being spent for political purposes, rewarding the unions and the public employees on the taxpayers back.
"That $700 billion is gone," he added. "We have to figure out one, where it went and two how to keep it from going away that way happening again. The American people can't afford that."
The first maneuver in the battle over government oversight came Monday, when Vice President Joseph Biden canceled a meeting with Issa that was set up to discuss oversight of hundreds of billions in stimulus spending. Biden's staff attributed the cancellation to a scheduling conflict, but it raised eyebrows because Biden met Monday with Justice Criminal Division Chief Lanny Breuer.
Breuer is well known in Washington circles for the role he played advising former President Bill Clinton during a spate of congressional probes during his administration. The White House insisted that Biden's meeting with Breuer was unrelated to its preparations for greatly intensified scrutiny once the 112th Congress takes office in January.
Of course, anytime the party controlling the House is at odds with the president, investigations are sure to follow. During the Clinton years, the Oversight Committee issued 1,052 subpoenas between 1997 and 2002. Democrats say the legal work and hearings cost over $35 million.
So far, however, Republicans wary of the fickle electorate are taking a much more cautious approach this time around.
"Congress' oversight function is not a license to bully political opponents," Barton wrote in a recent Washington Times op-ed. "Our permanent, constitutional and bipartisan responsibility is, however, to know what is going on in order to devise policy that takes into account actual people who have to pay for and live under our decisions."
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