WASHINGTON — The Virginia congressman expected to be the next House majority leader says Republican-led committees will devote more time investigating and exposing lapses by the Obama administration and problems with its programs, including bringing critical oversight reports to the House floor for very public debates.
Rep. Eric Cantor wants every committee chairman to investigate administration programs to make sure taxpayers are getting their money's worth. He's proposing a featured "oversight" hearing of the week. He's even ready to limit naming of post offices to one day a month, so that committees can spend their time on investigations.
Cantor, in a letter to fellow Republicans outlining his plans for running the House next year, said President Barack Obama "is now actively working to enact his agenda through agency regulations." He proposed using committee investigations and the "congressional power of the purse" to stop wasteful spending and programs that don't create jobs.
He said he would also encourage individual lawmakers or groups interested in specific topics to conduct their own studies of how government is or is not functioning.
Cantor, the Republican whip, is in line to become majority leader under the presumed House speaker, John Boehner, R-Ohio, when Republicans take over the House in January.
Cantor's proposals came as Republicans began the work of deciding how they will live up to their campaign pledge of making the House a more open, transparent and efficient institution.
"We will run a much different House," Boehner said in a letter to his GOP colleagues. He said no bill will come to the floor until members and the public have had three days to read it and that Republicans will put an end to compiling massive bills covering the myriad subjects that need to be dealt with at the end of a session.
Cantor said investigations should focus "on our key themes and how we solve problems as opposed to scoring political points," but it's also certain that such investigations would be a key tool by which Republicans could highlight the flaws they see with Obama administration policies on such issues as health care and regulating Wall Street.
Democrats have been worried that one incoming committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, would flood the administration with subpoenas. Cantor is suggesting that all the 20 House committees get involved in government watchdog operations.
He said the party should build on the leadership's current practice of issuing a weekly legislative message for members and reporters: "We should highlight one major oversight hearing each week that plays into our overall focus on job creation and reducing spending. At a minimum, the hearing should be highlighted on the floor schedule and incorporated into the week's priorities."
Cantor writes that the current pattern of the House meeting from Tuesday through Thursday, and spending one of those days on largely inconsequential bills, "leads to knee-jerk legislating." While not openly endorsing the idea of extending the Washington workweek, he did propose:
—Eliminating expressions of appreciation and recognition for individuals, groups, events and institutions.
—Considering the naming of post offices and other federal buildings only one day each month.
—Setting aside specific time each day or week for committees to meet without interruption from floor activities.
"There has to be a better way to operate this place," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who is heading a 22-member GOP transition team that will make recommendations on the legislative and administrative operations of the party and the House.
Like Cantor, Walden said there is a need to look into minimizing committee disruptions that leave hearing witnesses sitting for hours while lawmakers run to the floor for votes.
Walden said it was "not our focus" to eliminate jobs on Capitol Hill as part of Republican cost-savings measures, but added that "we have to find savings and we have to do it in a responsible manner." Some 30,000 people work in the Capitol Hill complex, according to the office of the Architect of the Capitol.
Similarly, Walden said that while there were no plans to reverse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's efforts to make the Capitol more energy-efficient, "let's see what the balance of trade-offs are."
Associated Press writer Larry Margasak contributed to this report.