The Conspicuously Absent Issa Agenda
Hacking 9/11 Victims
Eight lawmakers, led by Rep. Bruce Braley, renewed
their call this week for Issa to investigate allegations of hacking and other corruption by Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp. Specifically is the concern that NewsCorp hacked the phones of 9/11 victims. Braley first called for an investigation back in July
when news of NewsCorp's hacking scandal in the UK was first breaking. Issa's office claimed that Braley's call is an effort to divert resources from investigations that Issa apparently considers politically advantageous, and suggesting that he's not obliged to investigate anything unless the Senate does first. In stunningly callous and disappointingly condescending fashion, Issa did not respond at all to previous letters on the subject before calling Democrats "whiny" for their concern over 9/11 victims. Issa, of course, was leading the charge way back in 2008 for the federal government to cut off support for 9/11 first responders
because, in his words, "It simply was an aircraft, residue of two aircraft, and residue from the materials used to build this building."
It's worth noting that Issa has consistently blasted people and agencies for not responding to his requests by the arbitrary deadlines he set for them. His committee is also moving forward with a range of other hearings, suggesting that he doesn't feel that the committee can only handle one topic at a time, and making clear that he's purposely choosing not to investigate NewsCorp -- which would also involve investigating FoxNews. Plus, Issa's office has found enough time to engage in a running battle with the New York Times -- including specific and personal fights that target individual reporters that don't provide sufficiently positive coverage to Issa's work. Issa seems to have plenty of time, as long as it fits Issa's personal political agenda.
Issa continues to ignore safety problems at the San Onofre Nuclear facility after a dizzying string of safety failures across the country and around the world. We learned this week that the East Coast earthquake shook a Virginia nuclear plant twice as hard
as it was designed to withstand, and after investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a New York plant fired four and disciplined 34 more
over major safety violations. Then, Monday afternoon, an explosion at a French nuclear site killed one
and injured four more. Concerns were first raised by the Japanese disaster in March when an "earthquake and tsunami overwhelmed the plant’s emergency systems, triggering explosions and radiation leaks.
" The San Onofre plant, in Issa's own district, has suffered
nearly half a dozen spills of toxic chemicals in just over two years and has "a deficient 'safety culture,'" but its majority owner is also a leading financial backer of Issa's campaigns and Issa has taken no action.
After the major nuclear disaster in Japan, Issa said
that there should be a safety review of American nuclear plants. But instead of actually pressing for better safety, Issa has subpoenaed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over a political squabble
, diverting resources that could go to better safety. He followed that up by challenging
the NRC over being more cautious than the Japanese government in its evacuation recommendations. Particularly after Issa's criticism of Democrats for trying to provide comprehensive oversight instead of only focusing on the topics Issa finds politically advantageous, Issa's attempts to redirect NRC resources to his political fights remains stunning.
Actually Creating Jobs
Issa has been more than happy to snipe at the President's job creation proposal -- even before
anyone knew what was actually in it. Ranking committee Democrat Elijah Cummings has requested six full hearings in two weeks, ensuring that the President's proposal gets a prompt and thorough review before Congress takes action. So far, Issa has responded with a single subcommittee hearing -- today -- lining up nicely with the stated Republican priority
of scoring political points at the expense of creating jobs. So far Issa's agenda includes eliminating 400,000
federal jobs, the debt ceiling deal that will cost 1.8 million jobs
just in 2012, and his declaration yesterday that keeping teachers on the payroll is unnecessary
. He has yet to offer any proposal with a concrete claim of creating any jobs.
A recent study
found that 25 top corporate CEOs are receiving more in compensation than their corporations pay in federal taxes. Rep. Cummings has called
for hearings "to examine the extent to which the problems in CEO compensation that led to the economic crisis continue to exist today." Among the corporations named in the report is Boeing, who's pushed back strongly on the report's findings. But it's worth noting that the report doesn't begin to factor in, for example, the $900 million tax hand-out
that Boeing received from South Carolina (enthusiastically endorsed by Issa) in exchange for reducing benefits and slashing wages.
For Issa's part, he voted against a measure
that would have given shareholders a say on CEO pay, and tapped Rep. Patrick McHenry to spearhead oversight of the financial industry even though he was getting campaign checks from firms while he was investigating
their CEO compensation. And as we explain below, Issa has consistently avoided any other avenue of investigation that might reflect poorly on the major financial firms of Wall Street, even bringing in a Goldman Sachs Vice President with a changed name specifically in order to protect those firms from any regulation as the crisis continues.
Darrell Issa has had a disasterous run when it comes to Wall Street. He came out of the gates talking a strong game, demanding
a wide range of records and internal correspondence from the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission -- tasked with investigating the causes of the Wall Street meltdown. At the time, he was picking up the objections of commission Republicans who immediately accused the FCIC findings of being partisan, even after they had voted to ban terms like "Wall Street" and "deregulation"
from the final report. At the time, there were immediately concerns about the partisanship of the Republican members themselves, but Issa didn't pursue that. Instead, Issa pressed
of Republican commission members who exclusively blamed the government for the financial crisis, completely avoiding any role that huge financial firms on Wall Street might have played.
In the meantime, Issa took water over the sides as Think Progress uncovered that Issa was investing hundreds of thousands
with Goldman Sachs while trying to protect the firm from an SEC investigation. He also hand-picked Rep. Patrick McHenry to run the oversight subcommittee even though McHenry is mostly funded by the financial industry and has a history of accepting donations
from corporations while investigating them. Then in July, at the 11th hour, Issa pulled the plug on a hearing on FCIC because reality "didn't fit the narrative.
" A report
by committee Democrats found Issa's accusations "largely unsubstantiated" and had revealed that FCIC Republicans had repeatedly breached the commission's ethics standards and had worked with Republican strategists throughout the commission process to undermine its findings before they were even public.
At the time, an Issa spokesman said the hearing had been "postponed." Since then, we learned that Issa had hired a Goldman Sachs VP -- complete with a changed name -- specifically to protect the interests of Goldman Sachs and similar firms from new regulations. Two month later, we're still waiting for that "postponed" hearing on just what happened to lead us into financial crisis.
For many months, we have been desperately calling for Issa to look into how the foreclosure crisis has disproportionately ravaged military and veteran communities. Indeed, Issa's own district contains four of the hardest hit communities
in the entire nation, as foreclosures have tripled around Camp Pendleton and foreclosures have swept through military and veteran communities at a much higher rate than the broader national average. For months, Issa steadfastly refused requests from the general public and committee Democrats to look into this problem, even refusing
to demand records from mortgage houses who refused to comply with an Oversight investigation.
There was a glimmer of hope in July, when Issa pledged
during a related hearing to finally pursue military foreclosure documents from major financial firms. Issa's spokesman backpedaled immediately, saying that documents requested would "be determined." Two months later again, and we've not heard a peep from Issa. In the meantime, our active-duty military personnel are still particularly hard-hit
with foreclosures, and "the National Military Family Association said it is because troops do not have time to 'ride out' the market."
And recent reporting points out
that Issa has snapped up as much as $80 million worth of real estate during the down market -- specifically seeking personal benefit from the economic struggles of his constituents. That means that Issa is beyond the appearance of conflict and is aggressively seeking to profit personally from depressed real estate prices. Which means that he potentially makes money personally every day that he delays meaningful action to address foreclosures and the broader struggles of the real estate sector.
The Double Standard
Issa has made big promises as he's pursued a clearly partisan agenda, openly picking and choosing his investigations to benefit his own political career and further his partisan attacks. He's pressed to eliminate millions of jobs while criticizing the President for not creating more jobs. He's voted to cut 94%
of the funding for federal agencies to transfer records to new, more transparent technology, then criticized them for not making the switch fast enough even without the funding. He's diverted resources that could save the lives of his constituents, only to play politics over the victims of 9/11. He grabbed headlines accusing Democratic members of the Federal Crisis Inquiry Commission of partisanship, but hides from the subject when it's commission Republicans that are documented to have behaved in unethical, partisan ways. He's refused to lift a finger while thousands of military families in his own district have been hit by foreclosure, but he found time to bring Elizabeth Warren in repeatedly to be grilled
over why she was trying to do so much to help foreclosure victims and even accused of perjury.
At the beginning of Issa's tenure as Oversight Chairman, we worried what might happen if he turned into Glenn Beck with Subpoena Power
. Now we're finding out.
The GOP strategy to sacrifice jobs for politics
We were struck last week when Darrell issa started criticizing
President Obama's jobs plan before the President had even been given the chance to explain what was in it -- especially after Issa's working to cost the country millions of jobs. But over the weekend, Politico dug into what might be really going on -- electoral jockeying
Turns out that "behind the scenes, some Republicans are becoming worried about giving Obama any victories — even on issues the GOP has supported in the past." That sheds a bit of light on where Issa might be coming from. Remember, last year Issa was calling for Obama to beimpeached and labeled
him "one of the most corrupt presidents" less than two years into his term.
He's been forced since to backpedal on the hyperbole, but he was back at it again in April, offering support for Donald Trump's challenge to President Obama's birth certificate
. Of course, this is all against the backdrop of Senate Leader Mitch McConnell's stated priority of making Obama a one-term president and Issa's commitment to "a hearing a day." The strategy is clear: skip governing, throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.
It's been transparent for a long time that beating Obama is a higher priority than delivering for the American people, and as the Politico article reminds us, it's getting even more transparent now. Try figuring out this one from Congressman Pete Sessions:
“To assume that we’re naturally for these things because we’ve been for them does not mean we will be for them..."
Um, right. Incidentally, Sessions is in charge of every Republican House campaign next year. Well, as the President reminded us earlier today, the election is still 14 months away. We're still further away from the next election than we are from the last one -- the one that gave Issa control of the Oversight Committee.
The Oversight Committee will begin wading into the proposal tomorrow morning with a hearing
in the Regulatory Affairs subcommittee. Ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings had asked Issa for a series of six hearings
over two weeks on the jobs plan, but so far only the single subcommittee hearing has been publicly announced.
One of the freshman Republicans on that subcommittee, Raul Labrador, was also sharing the GOP perspective with Politico in the recent article, explaining that the priority is perception:
“Take a page from Clinton — when you’re willing to come to the Hill and work with Republicans, it actually makes both sides look better."
It's an interesting argument to make, suggesting that Obama hasn't tried to work with Republicans since taking office. But even more telling is the focus on making people look good instead of accomplishing good things. Tomorrow's hearing should be interesting.
Issa’s job elimination plan, blackouts and freeze outs
~ Before even allowing the President to present his jobs proposal last night, Darrell Issa was slamming it on Twitter. Despite rejecting the plan before knowing what it was, Issa's primary criticism was that jobs have been lost since the stimulus, therefore the stimulus, by his logic, didn't work. But Darrell Issa's agenda -- including
the debt ceiling deal that will cost 1.8 million jobs next year, the 400,000+ jobs he wants to eliminate and his proposal to gut the postal service -- would result in the elimination of even more jobs than have been lost since passage of the Recovery Act. And that's what Issa's doing on purpose to "create" jobs. Hard to figure where he gets credibility criticizing another plan that at least includes 'creating jobs' as its goal.
Meanwhile, Ranking Oversight Democrat Elijah Cummings has requested
a series of six hearings on the proposed jobs package. No word yet on whether Issa will agree to the hearings.
~ The entire San Diego region and parts of Orange County were hit yesterday with a full blackout lasting about 7 hours. It came as a stark reminder of the importance and fragility of our infrastructure on the same day of reports that the recent East Coast earthquake shook a Virginia nuclear plant twice as hard
as it was designed to withstand. The San Onofre nuclear plant in Issa's district was part of yesterday's blackout (still not back online), and has been at the center of a string of safety problems
that have garnered more attention since the nuclear disaster in Japan.
Despite promises to the contrary, Issa has thus far declined any investigation into safety conditions at San onofre, where a Japan-sized disaster would displace more than 100,000 people
in addition to the health threats and environmental destruction. Instead, Issa has consistently impeded the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's ability to deliver improved safety, diverting resources to Issa's subpoeanas
over political squabbles.
~ Also this week, word that Issa Enterprises is playing it very personal with the media. An Issa release
said that their reaction to the recent New York Times story was largely driven by a long-standing personal grudge with the specific reporter. And now, there are reports that a second New York Times reporter is being frozen out
by Issa for not delivering sufficiently favorable coverage.
Issa fired then-press secretary Kurt Bardella earlier this year for playing favorites with reporters and surreptitiously sharing communications between them. At the center of that controversy was a third New York Times reporter. Bardella has since been hired back
by Issa after a few months in time out working for the Issa transcription service at the Daily Caller, but it looks like they've stuck with the 4th-grader approach to media outreach.
Issa criticizes federal efficiency after slashing budget to improve efficiency
In February, Darrell Issa -- the co-founder of the House Transparency Caucus -- voted to cut more than 94%
of federal funding for transparency programs. Two months later, he gave his "personal pledge
" to save the transparency programs he had previously tried to starve of funding. At the time, we predicted here
that Issa would let the cuts breathe for a few months and then use the cuts as cover to attack new-found inefficiency. And this week, that's exactly what he's doing
A new investigation has found a reliance on "manual processes" to handle financial reporting across a range of federal agencies. The research is concerned with the inefficiency and inaccuracy that can come from the manual processes, and criticizes many agencies for not moving more quickly to transition away and incorporate more technology. That transition was specifically the aim of the funding that Issa voted to eliminate earlier this year -- the committee report even singles out the same specific sites that saw funding evaporate earlier this year, aided by Issa's vote.
Which calls for a recap of Darrell Issa's record on jobs. A month ago, he was lamenting that "so little is being done" in the first year of the debt ceiling deal he supported, even though it's projected to cost the U.S. 1.8 million jobs
in 2012 alone. Before that, he was proposing a plan to create jobs by... eliminating more than 400,000 jobs
. And now, after pressing for budget cuts that force federal agencies to stick with manual processes, Issa is criticizing the results. Like his plan to create jobs by eliminating jobs, he's now arguing that cutting capacity should have improved capacity for federal agencies. And since eliminating federal jobs is the central tenet of Issa's job-creation plan, it's not difficult to see this as the first step towards an attempt to justify further job cuts.
So to recap how this has unfolded: First, Darrell Issa voted to eliminate funding destined to help federal agencies transition to better technology for transparency. Second, he pledged to find a way to compensate for the lost funding. Third, as we predicted, he used the budget cuts as a pledge to attack those trying to deal with the budget cuts. And now fourth, having voted for budget cuts that force federal agencies to be inefficient, he's seizing on that inefficiency to call for reducing jobs.
It's almost cliche by now to accuse conservatives of getting elected by accusing government of not working, and staying elected by making sure it doesn't work. It may often be hyperbole, or an over-simplification, but this is a case that exhibits exactly how it can work. Start by cutting off resources that could allow federal employees to do their jobs, then cast them as the problem when they can't do the job without resources. The question then, is where will it end?
Issa’s meddling hampered by too much and not enough other meddling
If you want confirmation of how far out of whack things have gotten with the NLRB situation, look no further than South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. She called President Obama "cowardly
" last week for failing to weigh in on the ongoing case. You read that right -- Haley, who Darrell Issa has held up as a good example in this mess -- is now saying that it's the President's responsibility to attempt to bias an ongoing legal proceding.
For months, the crux of Issa's opposition to the ongoing NLRB case has been his belief that courts should not be allowed to operate independently of his politics. Further, that the NLRB has overstepped its mandate by... investigating in direct accordance with its mandate
This gets all mixed up though when it's lined up against Issa's concern that the Obama administration has been meddling in the NLRB's affairs to force a preferred outcome. In other words -- Haley says the President is a coward for not trying to interfere, but Issa says Obama has been interfering too much. Meanwhile, Haley delivered a $900 million corporate handout
and complained that not everyone is trying to make the court case a political fight and Issa is trying to eliminate the NLRB entirely
, in the process attempting to expose internal documents in the legal procedings. It just doesn't make sense.
So the argument of Issa, Haley and their allies boils down to a declaration that an independent judicial branch is illegitimate, and now that anyone who doesn't try to interfere is a coward. It's a tough spot for them though, since the target of the case -- Boeing -- is only in this situation because its executives came out unprompted and admitted to an apparent violation of the law
. The NLRB has said openly that the investigation only began after the de facto confession. Which has left Issa scrambling, and without much justification
for his actions:
The committee has presented no reason for needing agency documents related to ongoing litigation against Boeing — other than the political one of interfering with an agency that is congressionally mandated to balance the power between everyday working people and Big Business.
Against that backdrop, allowing an independent judicial investigation to proceed without political meddling isn't likely to turn out how Darrell Issa and his corporate allies want. It has the potential to be a kettle of fish no matter how it turns out, because since other businesses haven't spoken so openly about it in the past, this case will eventually set precedent one way or another.
Just like the Bush Administration's attempt to argue that if the President does it, it must be legal, Issa is arguing that if a corporation does it, it must be legal. Issa is trying to ensure that this NLRB investigation is the case that establishes that workers have the opportunity to object to illegal corporate behavior.
An odd sort of government oversight.
Issa’s weasel words on possible CEO pay investigation
As the drumbeat grows louder to revisit CEO compensation, including via a damning report
from Oversight Democrats, it's even pressed Darrell Issa to issue a statement
, declaring that "saying that it's time to examine whether 'the problems in CEO compensation led to the economic crisis continue to exist today.'”
Issa has often called for things to be investigated before working to block their investigation. He was spending hundreds of thousands on Goldman Sachs bonds while protecting them from an SEC investigation
. Meanwhile, he brought on a former Goldman Sachs VP to help shield Wall Street from any new regulation. Then he cancelled his own hearing on the Financial Crisis because it turned out the facts "didn't fit the narrative.
" Those facts included Republicans from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission coordinating with political allies to undermine their own commission's findings -- before they were made public.
Meanwhile, he appointed Patrick McHenry to chair the finance subcommittee. McHenry is notorious for a number of things, including the campaign donations he was pulling in
from Countrywide while investigating Countrywide and others over... their CEO compensation. And after Issa put a Goldman Sachs executive on the payroll, McHenry also worked with him to set up the berating hearing where McHenry twice accused Elizabeth Warren of perjury
After the nuclear disaster in Japan, a series of major safety problems
were highlighted at the San Onofre nuclear facility in Issa's district. Despite saying that it would be important to review safety standards, Issa has instead not only refused to investigate but proactively diverted resources to conduct safety improvements -- despite the hundreds of thousands
that could be displaced by a disaster.
Issa, of course, is one of the richest (if not the
richest) person in Congress. And since he has remained unconventionally hands-on with his vast financial empire, he knows that any threat to CEO compensation is also eventually a problem for his own bottom line. And we know what happens when Issa's business comes into conflict with the people's business