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Who Will Lead House Oversight and Government Reform?

By Ed O'Keefe

Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) victory over Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) in the "Clash of the Titans" battle to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee means Waxman will step down as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The California Democrat has led Congress' main investigative committee since 2007. He served as ranking member starting in 1997.

Waxman's move sets up yet another battle to control yet another key committee. Seniority is no longer the only factor determining who gets chairmanships, as the fight for Energy and Commerce demonstrated, but in practice it's still the most important. Expect a delicate battle that could incorporate seniority, age and between three members: Reps. Edolphus "Ed" Towns, Carolyn Maloney and Elijah Cummings. Towns is the most senior member of the trio, but Cummings may be seen by colleagues as the most effective chairman. Here's a review of the Democratic contenders in order of seniority:

Towns1.) Rep. Edolphus "Ed" Towns (D-N.Y.) is the committee's second-ranking Democrat and hails from Brooklyn. He's currently chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement. He is interested in the chairmanship now that Waxman is out, according to staffers. While some might consider him too low-key a person to lead such a visible committee (one Republican staffer called him a "quiet" presence), Towns's supporters suggest his drama-free style would be an asset in the post.

"Ed Towns has the temperament to avoid entanglement in partisan public fights that distract from the message of the Democratic Congress. He is truly a coalition builder," a statement from his office reads.

"You won't see the 'Burton-Waxman' fights of the past," one Democratic staffer said, adding that Towns would "turn the temperature down." Staffers note he's worked on legislation related to fraud and abuse by federal contractors, the independence of Inspectors General and security of federal computer systems.

Maloney2.) Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) was first elected to the House in 1992 and represents the East side of Manhattan and Astoria, Queens. She serves on the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, the Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement, and the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives. Most recently she sponsored the Contractors and Federal Spending Accountability Act of 2008 that will eventually require all government agencies and departments to check a database of government contractors before doing business with them. As second in seniority, she could emerge as a compromise candidate to Towns and Cummings.

Maloney's spokesperson declined to comment on her intentions.

Cummings3.) Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) represents most of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County. He currently chairs the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy and the Federal Workforce, Post Office, and the District of Columbia subcommittee. There is buzz surrounding his potential ascension, with one staffer suggesting he would have support "from a lot of people in high places" if he could get beyond his respect for House seniority. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have traditionally respected the seniority system. Cummings has fans on the other side of the aisle too; a Republican staffer expressed admiration for his ability to humanize the committee's complex issues.

“If he were asked to be the chairman, he would be very honored to accept it," said spokeswoman Jennifer Kohl.

IssaThe GOP appears to have rallied around California Rep. Darrell Issa to replace the committee's current ranking member, Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), who is retiring. First elected to the House in 2000, Issa represents parts of San Diego and Riverside. He has the support of the committee's nine Republican members returning to Congress in January, and it seems the telegenic Republican, who could emerge as a key party spokesman in his role on the watchdog committee, is prepping for a fight.

"It is imperative we have a leader willing to hold President-Elect Obama to his word to root out and eliminate unnecessary but popular federal programs," a letter from the nine members reads. "Darrell Issa will also take on the Committee Democrats who use the Committee for their own political purposes and as an arm of the DCCC. Darrell will not shy away from a battle and his leadership is exactly what our Conference needs for the 111th Congress and beyond."

The founder and former head of Direct Electronics, Issa bankrolled the recall campaign against then-Gov. Gray Davis (D) and tearfully ended his own bid for governor when Arnold Schwarzenegger emerged as the favorite. He also serves on the Judiciary and Select Intelligence Committees and would likely have to give up one of those slots if he becomes ranking member, a staffer said.

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 20, 2008; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Oversight  
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When a Democrat is praised on this type of committee for being "low key" or at the end of a very corrupt Republican administration Republicans have "nice things to say about them" it gives me pause. Too much "can't we look forward instead of backward" for my taste.

Posted by: markswisshelm | November 20, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

cummings does not chair any oversight subcommittees. kucinich is the domestic policy subcmte chairman.

Posted by: hillrat2 | November 21, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

An oversight and government reform committee composed of members of the two houses and the two parties is like having the foxes guard the hen house. The oversight and government reform committee should be made up of individuals outside of government. I would suggest picking a committee composed of members of non profit organizations who have always fought the lack of Government Oversight and Government reform. I can't remember the exact names but they include Taxpayers Watch organizations and consumer organizations such as Public Citizen.

Posted by: ivan47ronin | November 21, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the blogger(Ivan) posted above. His statements ring very true with congress not doing their job very well with Gov. spending. I believe its important to have members from non-profit organizations whose interest whose sole interest are for the taxpayers. These people are the watch dogs desiring to have the Federal Gov. have some accountability with their spending. Why hasn't this ever been considered?

Posted by: Rhonda5 | November 24, 2008 11:40 AM | Report abuse


The preference of you and Ivan that governmental oversight be provided by representatives of non-profit organizations hasn't been tried because elected officials are not going to voluntarily surrender a power they want to continue exercising to unelected people (and I don't blame them). These unelected people and the groups they represent all have their own axes to grind. At least, the elected people have been chosen by the voters to represent them.

Posted by: ksteve | November 25, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Low key and senior rank is okay, only if effective. I read that the senior Towns has been absent from his present committee duties in the past (56 absent days?)too often....
Well, he should remove himself from committees if he can not attend and represent the American people. He doesn't need to be voted out, he needs to look in the mirror and evaluate his own record.
Democrats have to get rid of the lineage and seniority models especially if they are not the right person for the job or find some other respectable job the senior person can do, so his ego is intact.
Otherwise, they should be assessing who is the best person for the job and step aside out of the intent to be the most effective force for their new leader of the DNC and the President. Enough of the old ways that haven't worked...that is why the democratic congress is rated so low. Time to up the anty and lets get the job done for the American people with the best in the lot for committees...its not just the years they put in where they took advantage of their seniority, and chose to be absent from their responsibilities.
In real life he would be fired for his high absenteeism. This is real life, not a rehearsal. I say, give it to the best person for the job NOW; and why does these grown men and women need me to tell them what is mature, honest and correct logical thinking. Congress et, al, need to grow up and get a grip and start getting the job done...done right and expediently. Pelosi, lets get going and get your ratings up in congress. Enough is enough.

Posted by: llafair1 | November 26, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I'm rooting for Carolyn Maloney. She has always fought for 'we' people. I don't havepersonal experience with the others. She got into politics in the first place because of her desire for real change. Give her a chance to take the leadership and do it. Billions stolen of the medicare trust fund over the last decade as insurance companies allowed to 'dump' their bills on medicare. Now that two million stolen by stealing my own claims info from inside contractor, the OIG still won't investigate as a simple thief can operate because of the all-over corruption.Contact me for more info 580-3687686. Linda J Adams

Posted by: LindaJoyAdams | December 1, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse

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