LOS ANGELES – The Democratic congressman who will investigate the Bush administration's running of the government says there are so many areas of possible wrongdoing, his biggest problem will be deciding which ones to pursue.
There's the response to Hurricane Katrina, government contracting in Iraq and on homeland security, political interference in regulatory decisions by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, and allegations of war profiteering, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., told the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
"I'm going to have an interesting time because the Government Reform Committee has jurisdiction over everything," Waxman said Friday, three days after his party's capture of Congress put him in line to chair the panel. "The most difficult thing will be to pick and choose."
Waxman, who's in his 16th term representing West Los Angeles, had plenty of experience leading congressional investigations before the Democrats lost control of the House to Republicans in 1994.
That was the year when, as chairman of an Energy and Commerce subcommittee, he presided over dramatic hearings he convened where the heads of leading tobacco companies testified that they didn't believe nicotine was addictive.
The scene made it into the movie "The Insider," but Waxman noted Friday that no subpoenas were issued to produce that testimony.
Republicans have speculated that a Democratic congressional majority will mean a flurry of subpoenas and investigations into everything under the sun as retaliation against the GOP and President Bush.
Not so, Waxman said.
"A lot of people have said to me, `Are you going to now go out and issue a lot of subpoenas and go on a wild payback time?' Well, payback is unworthy," he said. "Doing oversight doesn't mean issuing subpoenas. It means trying to get information."
Subpoenas would be used only as a last result, Waxman said, taking a jab at a previous committee chairman, GOP Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, who led the committee during part of the Clinton administration.
"He issued a subpoena like most people write a letter," Waxman said.
Waxman complained that Republicans, while in power, shut Democrats out of decision-making and abdicated oversight responsibilities, focusing only on maintaining their own power.
In contrast to the many investigations the GOP launched of the Clinton administration, "when Bush came into power there wasn't a scandal too big for them to ignore," Waxman said.
Among the issues that should have been investigated but weren't, Waxman contended, were the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, the controversy over the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name, and the pre-Iraq war use of intelligence.
He said Congress must restore accountability and function as an independent branch of government. "It's our obligation not to be repeating with the Republicans have done," Waxman said.