Tit-for-tat on House oversight panel appears to be the norm

It's only the beginning of the year, but there already appears to be no love lost between House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

Cummings and Issa are interacting mainly through a series of public letters, and the latest exchange occurred on Monday when Issa gave Cummings a date of February 11 when he will publicly release responses from businesses in which they are identifying federal actions and regulations that inhibit job creation. Cummings had asked Issa to make the responses public.

Cummings penned his grievances to Issa on Monday, complaining in a letter that the Democrats repeatedly have been denied access to committee records. Cummings asked committee Republicans to publicly commit to a bipartisan subpoena policy. Although the chairman has the unilateral right to issue subpoenas without consulting the minority, Cummings said that past chairmen have refrained from doing that. The panel is set to adopt formal rules Tuesday.

To pour a little more salt in the wound, Issa also announced on Monday that he and former committee Chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., will sit together at tonight's State of the Union address to illustrate "the spirit of bipartisanship." Issa and Towns became friends when Towns chaired the committee last year and Issa was ranking member.

What about Cummings? "On Cummings, we have no comment," a committee aide said.

Cummings has criticized Issa's request to businesses for feedback as "tantamount to inviting businesses to tell us they want us to do something [on regulations] as opposed to protecting the American people."

Cummings and Issa were expected to meet on Monday to discuss an Oversight Committee agenda, despite their sniping.

Issa sent his request for regulatory feedback to Big Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Financial Services Roundtable, major corporations, and smaller trade groups. Issa's push on regulations comes as the White House touts its effort to reduce regulatory burdens and to improve relations with Big Business.

"I expect to be able to make an initial analysis, as well as all responses received as of today, public no later than February 11, 2011," wrote Issa, who noted that he already shared responses to the letters with Democratic committee staff. Issa said that his staff in the meantime will "focus on receiving, organizing, and analyzing the response to these letters."

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group, has repeatedly called for Issa for make the responses to his requests public. CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan called the February 11 release of the letters "inadequate," arguing that Issa was attempting to control how the responses are viewed by releasing them with an analysis.

"He will try to manipulate the message," Sloan said. "Why does Issa need several more weeks to review the responses before sharing them? … Everyone should have equal amounts of time to react.… I don't know what the big secret is."

In addition to Monday's letter, Issa announced the launch of a website, AmericanJobCreators.com, which he said is intended to "listen to the personal stories of constituents, Californians, and nationwide job creators about how government impacts job creation."

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