Although the buffet line that is the 112th Congress hasn't officially opened yet, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, already has his plate piled high. Politico reported Monday that he is planning to hold at least four separate hearings in the new session of Congress, evidently including one on how "regulation impacts job creation." But Rep. Issa wasn't even first in line at the gavel trough when the Republicans won the mid term elections. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, wins the prize and his own platter. Two months ago, he promised hearings into the administration's legal policies in the War on Terror.
Ah, hearings. The one word that most aptly describes what our curiously beloved "divided government" really means. The Republicans tore after President Bill Clinton with hearings (and ultimately impeachment) when they controlled the Congress in the 1990s. The Democrats tore after President George W. Bush with hearings when they wrested control of the legislature mid-way through the 2000s. And now its clear that House Republicans intend to tear after President Barack Obama and his Democratic administration two years into his term of office. This is good news for journalists, soon to have loads of catchy sound and video from the coming political circus, and bad news for administration officials and staffers, soon to be hauled in front of committees and cameras and sworn under oath.
But it is great news -- and I mean, great news -- for private attorneys in and around the Washington, D.C. metro area, scores of them, who soon will be swamped with frantic "help me" phone calls from many of those aforementioned officials. Whether or not they have anything remotely significant to say, those public servants will surely need (and deserve) legal representation during the coming Hearings Season. They'll need help responding to subpoenas and other requests for information. They'll need help preparing their testimony. They'll need help exercising their various constitutional rights. And all of that will collectively cost a fortune- millions of dollars, I am sure -- by the time the circus tent folds again.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of House Oversight Committee, was spot on Sunday when he spoke on CNN about "what happened with the Clinton administration and how witnesses were dragged in to depositions, people making $50,000 a year had to pay $25,000, $30,000 to hire a lawyer." This occurred during the Bush Administration as well and especially at the Justice Department, which bore the brunt of much of the Democrats' ire because of former attorney general Alberto Gonzales' reign of error. Hearings into the U.S. Attorney scandal (to name just one) may ultimately have led to Gonzales' ouster. But many of his underlings, even those who kept their jobs, had to pay a high price as well, in attorneys' fees and costs, even though they could afford it least. Regardless of which party holds the hearing, in other words, the dog-and-pony show leaves victims even when it doesn't change policy.
Indeed, whatever partisan impact they have, and regardless of how much air time they receive, I suspect the hearings won't solve Washington's biggest problems. They rarely do. But they will accomplish two controversial goals of Republican policy. First, they will (through retainers and monthly billing statements) cause a transfer of money from the middle class (represented by the public officials who have to lawyer up) to the upper class (represented by the polished lawyers they hire). And second, they will stimulate revenue for many large law firms which, in turn, should stimulate job growth in that already exalted sector of the private economy.
The GOP leadership is spinning the Hearings Season as an opportunity to "shed light on the failures of government for the purpose of reforming them," to use Rep. Issa's words. But if Republicans really want the public's attention perhaps they should be calling their hearings part of the White-Shoe Washington Attorney Full Employment Act of 2011.