After the midterm GOP sweep of the House of Representatives, soon-to-be chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said food safety will be among the priorities for his committee.
Issa, widely feared by Democrats for what many predict will be an onslaught of subpoenas and politically motivated investigations of the Obama administration, told MSNBC Wednesday that he’ll focus instead on reforming the bureaucracy.
Potentially a “a thorn in President Obama’s side,” as MSNBC anchorwoman Samantha Guthrie put it, or “annoyer in chief” as the New York Times called him, Issa maintains he is more interested in being “reformer-in-chief.”
He told MSNBC he wants to “make the administration more effective and certainly cut down on the waste in government.”
Citing problems such as the government oversight failure to prevent the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where “the enemy is the bureaucracy, not the current occupant of the White House,” Issa said it’s not about targeting just the Obama administration.
Asked what his first subpoena to the White House would be, Issa said he wanted the administration to “dust off” and respond to stacks of unanswered letters.
“We’re going to look at everything from food safety to the Countrywide scandal … undoubtedly there will be mistakes made by the president,” he said. “But at the same time, I want to work with this administration to make things work better.”
“I will be asking the president for subpoena authority to all 74 inspector generals. I will offer a bill two weeks from now to do just that,” he added. “I look forward to strengthening those internal controls.
“A lot of what we’re going to do on my committee is go after things that are going to help people in their real lives, and that’s going to be a real priority. Whether it’s food safety or government waste or government regulations that are slowing up people hiring back unemployed workers. All of those issues are more important to put first for the American people.”
It’s not the first time Issa has brought up food safety as an issue in need of greater oversight.
In mid-September, he asked current committee chairman Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY) to hold a hearing “on the coordination–or lack thereof–between the numerous departments and agencies responsible for food safety.”
“Our Committee is uniquely positioned to look at the coordination and cooperation amongst departments and agencies. We should not wait until hundreds of deaths occur in a food crisis before we address the serious fragmentations in federal oversight of our increasingly global food supply chain,” wrote Issa in a letter to Towns, adding that he asked Towns in 2009 to hold a hearing on the food safety bureaucracy but the request went unanswered.
As Food Safety News recently reported, Issa has certainly not been the only member of Congress raising flags about the food safety system, but in his new position he will be uniquely positioned to look at food safety in a more systemic way, if indeed he is serious about doing so.
Traditionally, the Energy and Commerce committee holds hearings when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issues, and the Agriculture Committee takes control when it’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the line.
Those two committees will also see a change in leadership with the new Congress in January.
Four Republicans are considered to be in the running for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Current ranking member Joe Barton (R-TX), who held the position for three terms when the GOP ruled the House, has expressed interest in the job, but he may be barred by a caucus-imposed term limit on the position. Barton is also still in political hot water for his controversial apology to BP executives during a hearing on the oil spill.
Fred Upton (R-MI), John Shimkus (R-FL), and Cliff Stearns (R-FL) all are potentially in line for the position, which is expected to lead the Republican crusade to repeal health care reform. Of those four contenders, Stearns was the only one to vote against the sweeping food safety bill that passed the House with bipartisan support in July 2009.
The House Agriculture committee will look quite different next year–over half of the 28 Democrats currently serving on the committee were shown the door by voters on Tuesday. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) is expected to run the committee next year. Lucas voted against the food safety bill.