Congress

House GOP wastes no time launching investigations

With their new majority in hand, House Republicans have made it clear that government oversight will be a huge focus.

House GOP wastes no time launching investigations
Jose Luis Magana / AP

The House of Representatives' investigative powers date all the way back to the very first Congress in 1789.  Their authority stems not from the Constitution, but from Supreme Court rulings. 

"It was the Supreme Court that ruled that Congress can't effectively legislate absent oversight. And that's a precedent that they've upheld time and time again," said Tim Stretton, the director of the Congressional Oversight Initiative at the Project on Government Oversight

The current power to subpoena witnesses — and the consequences for ignoring one — dates back to the 1850s, when the House made contempt of Congress a crime punishable by jail time and fine. 

"They've continuously pushed it further, the power to issue subpoenas, you know, in compel documents and testimony, all comes from Supreme Court decisions," said Stretton. 

The one limit that has been set is that investigations must be tied back to a legislative purpose.  

"It doesn't require that Congress execute and actually write something into law. But it does require there to be a motivation and a potential for legislation, even if there's not actual legislation at the end of the game," said Sarah Binder, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

Congressman wants a tracking system for US classified documents
Congressman wants a tracking system for US classified documents

Congressman wants a tracking system for US classified documents

This comes after a string of the nation's top officials have been found housing classified documents on personal property.

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The first hearing for the House Oversight Committee will look for fraud and wasteful spending in COVID relief programs.   

"On COVID-19 and relief funds and spending, anytime the federal government spends money, it is literally the job of the Oversight Committee to make sure that they investigate waste, fraud and abuse," said Rep. Nancy Mace.  

The following week, the committee will hold hearings on the southern border and Twitter's response to the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020. 

"A lot of these groups are given certain tax benefits because of the way they're structured. But when they've switched from being a bulletin board to an editorial board, and regulating what's been put out, that changes things greatly," said Rep. Tim Burchett.  

Oversight Chairman Rep. James Comer says other top priorities for the committee include the Afghanistan withdrawal, American energy production and the fentanyl crisis

Both parties have been accused of using their oversight authority for political purposes. But members say there is room for bipartisan work to get done.  

"Oversight is known for kind of wild investigation hearings and that sort of thing. What people don't realize is it's actually a very substantive committee," Mace said. "It is also a great opportunity for members on both sides of the aisle to get some things done from a substance standpoint, from a policy standpoint."