Issa Pledges to Root Out Waste, Regulatory Excess and Programs that Do Not Work

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Darrell Issa (CA-49) delivered a speech to The Ripon Society yesterday morning in which he discussed his new position as Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and said his focus in the job would be to root out waste, eliminate regulatory excess, and identify programs that no longer work. 

In the speech, Issa described how he hoped to lead the committee in the 112th Congress. Making reference to two previous Republican Chairmen, he stated, “I’d like to take Tom Davis’s knowledge of government and where, if you will, the bodies of waste are buried, and Henry Hyde’s tenacity and composure to never, never be partisan – even if the other side is.” He also talked about some of the parameters of the job. 

“I can’t make any policy decisions in my committee, with the possible exception of the Post Office and some impact in the District of Columbia,” he said. “We’re not a regulatory committee. We’re primarily a committee that oversees the federal workforce – the policies and procedures, the rights and wrongs. And so, a little bit like the nuns who inherited me in college…they can hit my knuckles all they want, but there’s only so much change they were going to make.” 

When it comes to the magnitude of the challenges facing the new Republican majority, Issa was direct. “I’m the first to say that we cannot wrench $1.4 trillion out just based on waste, fraud and abuse. The committees of jurisdiction are going to have to make big, hard decisions. We are not going to be able to bring as much money into Social Security as we currently do and pay as much out as we currently do forever.” 

Issa was equally direct in discussing a much-reported-on statement he made this past fall and its relevance to his job as Oversight Committee Chairman today. “A couple months ago, I used the term corruption. I want to tell everybody here that if power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then money – as it grows larger than it needs to be, as it is assigned to programs and administration – corrupts the very process. That’s a principle that, again, I don’t have the jurisdiction to stop. But I have the ability in the next two years to show why TARP was a mistake. Not based on what it did, but based on how the Congress issued the dollars. 

“We basically handed President Bush a blank check based on a promise – none of which did he ever do. President Bush told us he was going to do one thing, and to our dismay, he, Bernanke, Paulson and others did completely different items. And then on top of that, did what we had suggested was an alternative to TARP. In other words, the Fed used its power in the trillions on top of the various uses of the TARP. Now, maybe it was the exact right set of decisions. That’s for the Financial Services and other committees to be primarily looking at – was the money well spent? If you were to have a similar situation in the future, would you use some of the tools that were used by the Bush and now the Obama Administrations? The presumption is, yes you would. Some of those tools were productive.” 

And some of the tools, Issa added, were not. 

“Our committee will look at the failed parts of TARP. We will also, I think, over the next few years – more than anything else that we’ve ever contributed as a committee – we will begin focusing on regulatory excesses. Regulatory excesses in some people’s minds are ‘you shouldn’t have had this law’ or ‘you shouldn’t have had that law.’ We sent out – it was originally 150 and it’s grown – letters to industry. Members of Congress are being encouraged to talk and send follow-ups to small businesses throughout their districts. As we get these answers back, some of them are like Christmas bells – they just keep ringing and ringing and pretty soon you say, ‘Ok, we’ve got that one.’ Some of them are more subtle. Some of them are five well-intentioned regulatory reforms that, when overlapped, slow progress down to a crawl. I can’t make a decision about whether or not we should build a new nuclear power plant. What I can look at is that after President Bush came in – after legislation was passed, after special funds were created for five nuclear power plants – we are still further away from the first one coming online… That’s the kind of slowness that will kill American competitiveness.” 

In discussing American competitiveness, Issa cited his own experience as an entrepreneur and successful businessman – an experience, he noted, that gave him a first-hand look at recent efforts in Washington to reform regulations and spur economic growth. “I’ve lived the last 10 years of regulatory reform, including Sarbanes-Oxley,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any question to anyone who’s involved with a public company that we didn’t get it right. We did not create the atmosphere in which the Bernie Madoffs don’t exist or the WorldComs or Enrons are never going to happen. But at the same time, we made it more burdensome and expensive to be a public company. We’re driving companies first to be private, and second to be public elsewhere.” 

Issa concluded his speech by returning to the subject of his new Committee Chairmanship and what he views as his oversight agenda for the coming year. 

“When I looked at my committee, I kind of looked and said, ‘I’ve got jurisdiction over everything. What’s the most important?’ The answer is, I’m going to look for those things which are causing us not to have full employment and be the envy of the world. I will also look for failures of government. But it is not – and I repeat – it is not about past operations of my committee, whether it was Mr. Waxman or other people in my party. It’s not about the occupant of the Oval Office. The occupant of the Oval Office is usually more a victim of the bureaucracy they did not anticipate and cannot change. And Congress, when they shoot to Pennsylvania Avenue, miss the hundreds of thousands of areas where reforms are needed. 

“Yes, when I take on regulatory excesses, someone may run to the White House and say, ‘But this is my pet regulation. This is important to me because this interest group wants it.’ We expect that. But for everybody here, the most important thing – the only thing that’s bipartisan in Washington – is a recognition that unemployment comes from a lack of private sector employers making independent decisions to add people because it’s in their best interest to add people.”