Of the many reasons why so many of us felt it absolutely critical that the Democrats win control of Congress, surely at the very top of the list was the need for a rebirth of congressional oversight. Such oversight had, of course, all but died during the years of undivided Republican governance. And while the investigators were away, the rats (both corporate and governmental) played — to the tune of billions upon billions of the public’s dollars being wasted on shoddy political payoffs and the wretched excesses of crony capitalism as it’s now played.
The good news is that early indications strongly suggest that the fear many of us had before the election that once in power congressional Democrats, always anxious to please the inside the beltway crowd, might go all “nonpartisan” on us and forswear vigorous oversight investigations appears to have been groundless.
An article from the Associated Press today is particularly encouraging.
The lawmaker poised to cause the Bush administration’s biggest headaches when Democrats take control of Congress may just be a grocer’s son from Watts who’s hardly a household name off Capitol Hill.
Rep. Henry Waxman . . . has spent the last six years waging a guerrilla campaign against the White House and its corporate allies, launching searing investigations into everything from military contracts to Medicare prices from his perch on the Government Reform Committee.
In January, Waxman becomes committee chairman — and thus the lead congressional hound of an administration many Democrats feel has blundered badly as it expanded the power of the executive branch.
Waxman’s biggest challenge as he mulls what to probe?
“The most difficult thing will be to pick and choose,” he said.
So are happy days, or at least responsible ones, here again? Don’t count on it. If the Bush Administration has been consistent about anything, it has been in how it responds to any hint of scandal: Stonewall, stonewall and then stonewall some more.
Congress can issue all the subpoenas it wants to the White House. That doesn’t mean the White House will honor them, or at least do so completely and in good faith.
Here’s my prediction: The early months of 2007 will be accompanied by the biggest presidential stonewall operation since Watergate. Congressional requests for documents and testimony from the executive branch will be diced, sliced and executive privileged into tiny shreds of paper and then scattered to the four winds by a blast of Dick Cheney’s rhetoric.
Nothing, not one damn inconsequential little piece of paper, will be produced without a fight.
And all the while, of course, the great right wing noise machine will be working overtime, accusing the Democrats of abusing their power and of putting the country at risk for terrorist attacks as part of a political witch-hunt. And yes, once again, through one form of black magic or another, these people will not only avoid spontaneously combusting from the sheer hypocrisy of such comments in light of their own conduct during the Clinton Administration, the major media will also largely ignore this whole issue of hypocrisy.
And somewhere up in the heavens the angels will cry for our nation’s lost political soul.
The Democrats, of course, will then be faced with the unpalatable decision of whether to go to court, an option that’s not only far from certain to produce favorable results, but one that would be guaranteed to cause years of delay, potentially extending past the end of Bush’s term of office.
So what should the Democrats do? Here’s my thought: They should try an end-run around the claims of executive privilege. Remember that most of the worst corruption in the Bush Administration has involved a series of unholy alliances with private corporations. So if, for example, you want to investigate all of those luscious no-bid contracts, don’t start off by subpoenaing executive branch employees: Subpoena their corporate “better halves.”
Bit by bit, witness by witness, build a record. Call disgruntled former employees — corporate and governmental — to the stand. Trace the contacts between the corporate executives and Bush officials, using corporate records and testimony to do it. Show the waste. Show the overcharging. Show the lack of oversight in the expenditure of public funds. Show the failure to produce results from the money spent. Then stick the CEOs of companies like Halliburton on the stand and watch them twist and sweat.
And then and only then, when it’s clear to everyone just how much Bush & Co. has to hide, go to the mat with demands for documents and testimony from administration officials. Then watch them twist and sweat for awhile until, most likely, they eventually cough up the information. They’ll cough it up because at that point politically they’ll have no other choice.