Democrats say they will take on investigations that could provoke GOP
Monday, November 27, 2006
WASHINGTON -- The incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is promising an array of oversight investigations that could provoke sharp disagreement with Republicans and the White House.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., pledged that Democrats, swept to power in the Nov. 7 elections, would govern "in the middle" next year. But the veteran lawmaker has a reputation as one who has never avoided a fight and he did not back away from that reputation Sunday.
Among the investigations he said he wants the committee to undertake:
* The new Medicare drug benefit. "There are lots and lots and lots of scandals," he said, without citing specifics.
* Spending on government contractors in Iraq, including Halliburton Co., the Texas-based oil services conglomerate once led by Vice President Dick Cheney.
* An energy task force overseen by Cheney. It "was carefully cooked to provide only participation by oil companies and energy companies," Dingell said.
* A review of food and drug safety, particularly in the area of nutritional supplements.
Meanwhile, the incoming chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee said his committee would not take on contentious issues, such as extending expiring tax cuts or overhauling Social Security, at the beginning of the year. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said Democrats do not want a fight with President Bush and want to prove they can govern.
"The first thing we're going to do is try to work together on things we know we can accomplish," Rangel said. "Rather than have the committee against the president, it's not going to happen," Rangel said.
Rep. Barney Frank, set to lead the House Financial Services Committee, said issues such as raising the minimum wage will be popular, even thought the idea has been identified with liberals.
"In my own committee, the biggest difference you're going to see is we're going to return to try to help deal with the housing crisis that blights so many parts of our country socially and economically," said Frank, D-Mass.
Frank, who in 1987 became the first member of Congress to voluntarily make his homosexuality public, also said he wants to modify the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The current policy prohibits officials from inquiring about the sex lives of service members and requires discharges of those who openly acknowledge being gay.
"One of things I do want to address, yes, is discrimination based on sexual orientation," Frank said.
"In fact, what we have is a shortfall in the military. I think when you have people being fired who can read Arabic and understand Arabic, because of what they do when they're off duty, that that's a grave error. But that's not what we're going to begin with."
A report in 2005 by the investigative arm of Congress estimated it cost the Pentagon nearly $200 million to recruit and train replacements for the nearly 9,500 troops that had to leave the military because of the policy. The losses included hundreds of highly skilled troops, including translators, between 1994 through 2003.
Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, who will become the Senate's second-ranking GOP leader, said Republicans still have enough clout to block legislation "if it's really bad, not in the country's best interest." But he also said he wanted to find areas where the two sides can compromise.
"The people, I think, sent us a message. I think we've got it," Lott said. "We're going to be working hard together."
The lawmakers appeared on "Fox News Sunday."