Today, as the House Financial Services Committee met for the first time in the 114th Congress to consider its rules, Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) criticized a proposal by Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) to dramatically change the Committee’s rules. Of the many proposed changes, the most egregious include providing unilateral authority to the Chairman to issue and authorize subpoenas. Although the Committee approved a Waters Amendment requiring the Chairman to provide the Ranking Member notice about subpoenas, Waters continued to raise objections to the dramatic rule change.
In addition, Republicans have proposed adding an additional 60 minute block of time to the questioning process. This time, which would be divided equally between the majority and minority, could be given to any member during their questioning of a witness, a move that would be prejudicial to the Committee’s more junior members who may not get the opportunity to question witnesses.
Below are excerpts from her Committee statement:
“These changes make a profound shift in authority away from both Republican and Democratic members of this Committee – and places it directly with the Chairman. By giving the Chairman of this Committee the singular authority to issue subpoenas, we are taking a dramatic step away from the democratic tradition of majority rule to a new frontier where one member of this Committee can make sweeping decisions regarding its procedures, priorities and assertion of legal authority. By fundamentally usurping the ability of our Committee members’ to vote on issuing subpoenas, and handing that authority to one individual, we are stripping each and every member of this Committee – except the Chairman – of a core function; that profound responsibility of overseeing the agencies and entities within the jurisdiction of our Committee.
While this anti-democratic rule change is disturbing enough, it flies in the face of the practice and good faith that we, in the minority have extended to the Chairman and the majority of this Committee in the prior session of Congress. Democrats on this Committee, and on the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in particular, bent over backwards to work alongside the majority during its extensive investigations over the past two years. Even when we distrusted some of these investigations, and even when many of our Democratic members felt extremely uncomfortable with the nature and tone of these inquiries, we worked with – and not against – the majority to subpoena witnesses to get better information and help resolve the underlying issues.
It is apparent that there is a push from the Republican leadership in the House to expand subpoena authority across several committees. But, that doesn’t mean this Committee should reflexively join this effort. There is ample reason to worry about excesses and overreach in this process, as exemplified by the actions of Chairman Issa during his tenure on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Given this Committee’s track record of cooperation in this area, I honestly do not see why there is the need to enlist in the Republican majority’s plan to expand subpoena power – just because we can. I think that members of this Committee deserve more respect than that.
Another important principle that has always governed this Committee’s hearing proceedings is to ensure that all members get a chance to ask witnesses questions in a fair and timely manner. But a new proposal to dole out an 60 extra minutes of question time takes a step that could not only significantly add to the overall time of our committee hearings, but also prejudice further the wait for our more junior members, both Republican and Democrat, before they get the opportunity to question witnesses.
Regardless of the fact that the minority would get half this time, no member of this committee should be afforded the opportunity to monopolize time for questions. We all have the same rights and responsibilities to represent our constituents and look for answers to the important public policy questions. When I was a junior member of this Committee, I remember all too well how frustrating it was to await my turn to offer questions to witnesses. Why are we proposing rules that could make this wait longer and even more frustrating? Our rules already provide for multiple rounds of questions if members have additional questions. I see no reason for this fundamental change.”