Rep. Darrell Issa Takes On Big Government

The U.S. congressman promises bold action in the 112th Congress.

California Representative Darrell Issa (CA-49) has been a thorn in the side of the Obama administration since the president took the oath of office. Now that Issa is being elevated to the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the congressman will have the power to shine a light on a host of matters and policies that many on the Right find to be of questionable value at best and downright destructive at worst. Preliminary reports indicate that Issa’s ambitious agenda will cover a host of areas that badly need attention. Yet, even if Issa and his committee investigate such issues, the ultimate question remains: will this finally be the Congress with the will and the courage to do something when problems are identified, or will our representatives shy away from making tough, unpopular decisions once again?

According to an interview he did with Fox, the first thing on Issa’s agenda will be a hearing to examine the impacts of excessive regulation on job creation. "We need to start by asking a very fundamental question: Why hasn't the economy created the private-sector jobs the president promised?" Issa asked in a memo describing the hearing. It’s a timely question, given continuing economic doldrums and high unemployment, so this would seem to be a good place for the Oversight and Government Reform Committee to start. If the public and both parties cannot be convinced that excessive bureaucratic interference is economic poison after two years of recession, there’s little chance that free market sanity will ever prevail again.

Issa also plans to use his committee to closely examine the roles that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac played in 2008’s economic meltdown. Those on the Left who insist on blaming the burst of the housing bubble solely on capitalist greed will surely gnash their teeth when these hearings are held. Denials by Barney Frank and his ilk notwithstanding, Fannie and Freddie played a huge role – arguably the biggest role – in creating the economic disaster that continues to fester today. A thorough investigation into the sorts of lending policies that Fannie and Freddie encouraged and/or demanded, despite repeated warnings that such policies could only end in catastrophe, is desperately needed.

Other items high on Issa’s agenda are investigations to determine exactly how the Obama administration spent trillions in TARP and stimulus money, a look at corruption in Afghanistan and a closer examination of the Wikileaks scandal. Everyone, of any political persuasion, ought to welcome these kind of hearings. Yet, despite Issa’s avowed intent to maintain a bipartisan approach, it would be the height of naiveté to believe that party rancor and ideology won’t – as it always does – quickly and loudly intrude into the proceedings. One can only hope that the chairman and committee members from both parties will have the guts to stick to their guns and answer the tough questions, no matter where the investigations lead.

Issa will thus have an opportunity to prove his mettle over the next two years. Heretofore, he’s largely occupied the role of “critic at large,” finding fault where there was fault to found, but not occupying the kind of leadership role that would require him to make tough decisions himself. He’s a favorite of the Right because he speaks plainly and he clearly takes the time to educate himself in detail on a topic before commenting. Darrell Issa is a smart guy with an attractive vision of the way the world ought to look. The question will be how well he can walk that fine line between principle and pragmatic politics.

Despite his hard-edged reputation, Issa’s approach to the Middle East – and he has obviously spent a great deal of time mulling over the challenges of the region – reveals a man who believes that a point of compromise can always be found, even among the most uncompromising of foes. Removed from their larger context, some of Issa’s remarks over the years seem to be attempts to undermine Israel. He looked to Syria for leadership in the Arab world soon after 9-11 and he still expresses sympathy for the plight of Palestinians living in Gaza, for example. Yet, these kind of remarks are not indicative of an anti-Semite (as some of Issa’s opponents have claimed), but of rather, yet another example of a Westerner who views the challenges confronting the Middle East through Western eyes and assumes all parties involved share Western values. Issa obviously still believes that the “good Muslim” governments in the region can be separated from “bad Muslim” governments, if only the US would take a bold step forward to express our undivided support for the former and our disdain for the latter. Thus, when Issa looked to Syria for leadership after 9-11, it was because he believed that Bashir Assad was what he purported to be: a moderate who had turned his back on his father’s policies. When Issa talks about Gaza, he expresses his conviction that the Palestinians in Gaza are suffering under corrupt leadership just as Israelis have suffered from that leadership’s unprovoked attacks. His solution is to find benevolent leadership for the Palestinians that would do better for those living in Gaza and would also make peace with Israel. That’s a noble, if terribly naïve vision.

Yet, Darrell Issa’s influence on foreign policy is going to be negligible, so his misconceptions about the Middle East don’t count for much either way. The most important part of his tenure as chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee will involve rooting out waste, exposing bureaucratic excess and exposing failed government policies. Those would appear to be the kind of tasks to which the congressman is uniquely suited. His performance, or lack of same, over the next two years will go a long way towards determining the future course of the nation.