Democrats battle for top spot on House oversight panel
Updated 11:03 a.m. ET
At least two Democrats are fighting to become the chief sparring partner of the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the new Congress after the panel's current chairman decided against serving as ranking member in the new Congress.
The committee's broad jurisdiction includes oversight of the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Postal Service, the National Archives, general government and Executive Branch operations and issues concerning the District.
Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) withdrew his name from consideration Tuesday "after much thought," a spokeswoman said with little other explanation.
Towns is supporting the committee's second-ranking Democrat, Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), to succeed him, citing her seniority.
Maloney launched her bid Tuesday by citing Republican opposition to a Census Bureau reform bill she sponsored.
The Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act would have set five-year terms for the census director and would have elevated the position within the Commerce Department. It passed the Senate unanimously last week but failed to earn the two-thirds majority needed in a House procedural vote, dashing hopes of its passage during the lame-duck session.
"This was a bipartisan bill, which wouldn't increase costs to the taxpayer, and it deserved a better fate," Maloney said in a statement. "It's clear that the incoming majority on the House Oversight Committee wants to be the party of 'no.' "
That statement came as she circulated a letter formally launching her committee bid.
"I have a strong record of digging deep into the issues, asking tough questions, and fighting back," Maloney said in the letter. "I am the second ranked Democrat on the Committee after Chairman Towns and would be the first woman to serve as Ranking Member of this Committee."
The bid is getting a positive reaction "because of the work she's done within the caucus," said Maloney spokesman, Jon Houston.
But she faces an uphill battle against Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who is said to be the preferred pick of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), according to House aides familiar with the matter and not authorized to speak on the record.
In a statement, Cummings pledged to work with Issa in a bipartisan manner but said Democrats should not cede the committee's work to a Republican majority that "wishes to move our nation backward."
Issa plans to hold as many as 280 hearings "in pursuit of obstructing some of the most significant legislative achievements from the 111th Congress and undermining the current administration," he said.
Cummings earned the support of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the panel's outspoken fourth-ranking member. The Ohio Democrat also had signaled an interest in running for the top spot, but said Tuesday that Cummings is better equipped to square off with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who will lead the committee when the new Congress starts in January.
Whoever wins the top Democratic job likely will earn greater prominence as a defender of the Obama administration against Issa's promised oversight investigations.
"This is an internal matter for the Democratic Caucus to decide and we'll let that process run its course," Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella said Tuesday night. "Chairman-designate Issa looks forward to working with whoever the Democrats select to be the Ranking Member."
Towns and Issa maintained a relatively cordial relationship, but Issa and his aides often marveled privately at what they perceived as Towns's lack of enthusiasm and interest in pursuing meaningful oversight investigations.
Other Democrats also grumbled quietly about Towns and feared he would not effectively counter the telegenic, press-hungry Issa.
As for the census reform bill, Republicans opposed it because it didn't properly address concerns about accountability and political independence at the Census Bureau.
"With the 2010 Census results being released next week, it is premature to consider this bill now -- especially when we haven't had a single hearing on any provision in this bill," said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the House census subcommittee.
Issa also didn't like the bill despite previous statements that the Census Bureau deserved more prominence and political independence. But neither Issa nor McHenry provided any immediate alternatives to Maloney's bill.
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| December 15, 2010; 11:03 AM ET
Categories: Census, Congress, Oversight
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