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Chairman Issa Picking Minority Witnesses for Hearings on Oversight Committee

Darrell Issa is trying to stop House Oversight Committee Democrats from calling minority witnesses for hearings, and if successful this could become a more widespread Congressional practice.

Last week, Issa instituted a new policy, which designates Administration officials testifying before the Oversight Committee – most of whom are usually invited by the majority – as “minority witnesses.” This knocks out the amount of witnesses available to the minority. The Committee’s rules allow for “witnesses whom the minority may request” as requested by the minority rather than designated by Issa. In addition, under the new rule, the minority must make its request for witnesses before discovering who the majority invited to hearings.

Today, Ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) raised a point of order on the new rule at a Subcommittee hearing. The minority was denied the opportunity for a witness at that hearing, on project labor agreements, because an Administration member was designated as their witness. Cummings said, “No previous Chairman has ever designated who the minority witnesses would be. Chairman Issa’s policy is an extreme edict, and I am aware of no other House or Senate Committee with a similar policy.” He added that often the committee members object to the position of the Administration, so having them as minority witnesses makes it difficult for them to get their side of the story out. The Democrats on the Committee sent a letter to this effect as well.

You can see the result in the video. The subcommittee member, James Lankford (R-OK), basically filibustered, and determined for the minority that the Administration officials invited to this particular hearing supported their position. He promised to “follow up” later on.

This is pretty ridiculous. Issa is basically throwing out minority witnesses and setting up hearings as inherently imbalanced, enabling him to choose witnesses for both sides. And you can see how every committee in the House would adopt this in short order. Maybe it’s a small point, but it’s an example of how the work of Congress moves slowly away from democracy.

The full letter from Oversight Committee Democrats is on the flip.

June 3, 2011

The Honorable Darrell E. Issa
Chairman
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We are writing to request that you immediately withdraw your misguided new policy on minority witness requests. This policy was conveyed by your staff via email for the first time on May 25, 2011. The email states:

It is the policy of the Committee, once the weekly schedule is officially posted, for the Minority to have 24 hours to recommend their witness for the hearing(s) posted. If there is an Administration witness then that witness is the designated minority witness. It is up to the Chairman to accept an additional witness but that witness must be recommended within the 24 hour period. Email from Majority Staff, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to Minority Staff, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (May 25, 2011) (emphasis in original).

This unprecedented new policy undermines the integrity of our Committee by impairing the ability of minority Members to participate in its important work. No previous Chairman of this Committee has ever issued such an extreme edict, and we are aware of no other House or Senate Committee with a similar policy.

We have two fundamental objections. First, it should go without saying, but minority witness requests, by definition, are requested by the minority. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Committee Rule 2 (providing for “witnesses whom the minority may request”). Obviously, you are not in the minority, so if you invite an individual to testify, that person is not appearing at the request of the minority. If we have not requested an Administration witness, you may not “designate” an Administration official you invite as a minority witness, unless you are willing to allow the minority to withdraw that invitation as well.
We will reserve the right to request witnesses of our choosing, including individuals who we believe have the ability to enhance the understanding of Committee Members and provide perspectives that are not otherwise represented by the witnesses you invite. As ranking members, we have and will continue to submit minority witness requests to our respective Chairmen, and only those individuals identified and requested as minority witnesses should be considered as such.

Our second objection is to your new 24-hour rule, which you do not appear to be applying even to your own witnesses. During this Congress, you have complied with the minimum requirements necessary under our Committee rules by providing only a single week’s notice prior to Committee hearings. These notices have included nothing more than the title of hearings, with no witnesses identified. It is fundamentally absurd to demand that we identify minority witnesses before you have identified witnesses yourself, yet your new policy does just that.

Apart from these specific objections, we are concerned about the direction of your overall approach. Rather than increasing bipartisan cooperation, as you pledged to do many times, you have adopted this new policy without identifying any legitimate basis or need for it. This leads to the unfortunate conclusion that you are more interested in holding hearings to advance your own personal political agenda rather than objectively gathering facts from a variety of sources to improve public policy.

When you were in the minority in 2007, you said this: “In a Democracy whose lifeblood is fueled by the market place of ideas, Committee practices that stifle or preclude full debate should be avoided at all cost.” Letter from Ranking Member Darrell E. Issa to Chairman Dennis J. Kucinich (June 8, 2007) (online at http://issa.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=310&
Itemid=28&Itemid=4). We urge you to heed those words and immediately abandon this unfair and unreasonable policy.

Sincerely,

CommunityThe Bullpen

Chairman Issa Picking Minority Witnesses for Hearings on Oversight Committee

Darrell Issa is trying to stop House Oversight Committee Democrats from calling minority witnesses for hearings, and if successful this could become a more widespread Congressional practice.

Last week, Issa instituted a new policy, which designates Administration officials testifying before the Oversight Committee – most of whom are usually invited by the majority – as “minority witnesses.” This knocks out the amount of witnesses available to the minority. The Committee’s rules allow for “witnesses whom the minority may request” as requested by the minority rather than designated by Issa. In addition, under the new rule, the minority must make its request for witnesses before discovering who the majority invited to hearings.

Today, Ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) raised a point of order on the new rule at a Subcommittee hearing. The minority was denied the opportunity for a witness at that hearing, on project labor agreements, because an Administration member was designated as their witness. Cummings said, “No previous Chairman has ever designated who the minority witnesses would be. Chairman Issa’s policy is an extreme edict, and I am aware of no other House or Senate Committee with a similar policy.” He added that often the committee members object to the position of the Administration, so having them as minority witnesses makes it difficult for them to get their side of the story out. The Democrats on the Committee sent a letter to this effect as well.

You can see the result in the video. The subcommittee member, James Lankford (R-OK), basically filibustered, and determined for the minority that the Administration officials invited to this particular hearing supported their position. He promised to “follow up” later on.

This is pretty ridiculous. Issa is basically throwing out minority witnesses and setting up hearings as inherently imbalanced, enabling him to choose witnesses for both sides. And you can see how every committee in the House would adopt this in short order. Maybe it’s a small point, but it’s an example of how the work of Congress moves slowly away from democracy.

The full letter from Oversight Committee Democrats is on the flip.

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