The New Watchdogs

When John Boehner becomes the new Speaker of the House January 5, fellow Republicans take over all the committees. And several intend to focus a magnifying glass on Obama administration policies.

One of the leaders of that effort will be Representative Darrell Issa of California.

"My committee's lane is waste fraud and abuse in government," Issa told reporters following a meeting at the White House November 30. "And certainly, with $700 billion in the stimulus, this is a great opportunity to see if we can track where the money has gone accurately."

Issa will chair the Oversight and Government Reform Committee which is expected to play a key role in holding the administration accountable--not so much through investigations of wrongdoing, but rather in oversight of bad or unworkable policies, overspending that doesn't produce results, or poorly managed agencies.

But Ron Bonjean, a former aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, told Fox the new House GOP focus will not be an excuse to ruthlessly persecute Democrats.

"Republicans aren't going to get personal," he said. "What they're going to do is look at all the programs the Democrats have put in place, all the spending over the last couple of years, and they're going to try and peel it back like onion layers."

Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste agrees. "[Republicans] really want to know what is working or what is not, and why, and then go back to their constituents and say, ‘We got rid of 10 programs because they were just the worst possible expenditure of your tax dollars.'"

One Democrat agrees on the need to closely examine spending but also offers Republicans a warning.

"Everyone should be embarrassed by the waste of taxpayers' money and try to stop it," said New Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews. "But that should not give anyone the license to go on a witch hunt trying to just embarrass the other political party. I think that is a waste of taxpayers' money as well."

Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah offers his fellow Republicans similar words of caution. "Look, we can't just go on a witch hunt out there," he said. "We've got to be able to use that [authority] in a very judicious way, very respectful way, but also hold the administration accountable."

As the majority, Republicans regain the power to subpoena witnesses and call hearings. Many of those hearings, lawmakers say, will be to examine what's expected to be an onslaught of bureaucratic regulations--environmental regulations to penalize carbon emissions, for instance, and many new ones to implement the health care law.

"We've heard a lot of rhetoric about what it's supposed to do, but nobody, nobody knows how health care is supposed to work," Chaffetz said. "That is fundamentally and totally wrong."Bonjean echoes that view. "No one really knows. I mean you have a trillion dollars of government spending with hundreds of programs and regulations being written right now."

And anti-waste advocate Tom Schatz notes, "Oversight is particularly important because there is so much going on in the government that taxpayers don't know everything and neither does Congress." Case in point: the administration recently acknowledged the federal government made $125 billion in improper payments just last year. That's exactly the kind of thing Republicans are out to stop.

House Republicans maintain the public doesn't want the new majority to tear apart the Obama administration. But citizens do want their government to be held accountable.