jason thurber's weblog

globally-scoped ramblings

Curiouser and curiouser…

without comments

One of my friends send this to me:

White House Puts Limits on Queries From Democrats

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 7, 2003; Page A29

The Bush White House, irritated by pesky questions from congressional Democrats about how the administration is using taxpayer money, has developed an efficient solution: It will not entertain any more questions from opposition lawmakers.

The decision — one that Democrats and scholars said is highly unusual — was announced in an e-mail sent Wednesday to the staff of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. House committee Democrats had just asked for information about how much the White House spent making and installing the “Mission Accomplished” banner for President Bush’s May 1 speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

The director of the White House Office of Administration, Timothy A. Campen, sent an e-mail titled “congressional questions” to majority and minority staff on the House and Senate Appropriations panels. Expressing “the need to add a bit of structure to the Q&A process,” he wrote: “Given the increase in the number and types of requests we are beginning to receive from the House and Senate, and in deference to the various committee chairmen and our desire to better coordinate these requests, I am asking that all requests for information and materials be coordinated through the committee chairmen and be put in writing from the committee.”

He said this would limit “duplicate requests” and help answer questions “in a timely fashion.”

It would also do another thing: prevent Democrats from getting questions answered without the blessing of the GOP committee chairmen.

“It’s saying we’re not going to allow the opposition party to ask questions about the way we use tax money,” said R. Scott Lilly, Democratic staff director for the House committee. “As far as I know, this is without modern precedent.”

Norman Ornstein, a congressional specialist at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed. “I have not heard of anything like that happening before,” he said. “This is obviously an excuse to avoid providing information about some of the things the Democrats are asking for.”

Campen’s e-mail wording suggests the policy may extend to other inquiries about the functioning of the Executive Office of the President, but the immediate targets were the spending committees. For years, those panels had a strong bipartisan tradition in which the majority party generally joined the minority in tough oversight of the administration.

Brookings Institution government scholar Thomas Mann said the Democrats have little ability to challenge the decision. “This is just one of many instances where Republicans have a legal basis for what they’re doing, but it violates long-standing norms,” he said. All the Democrats can do, he said, “is carp.”

The White House said it is in discussions to reach an amicable compromise. “There have been staff-level discussions about ways to better coordinate requests from Congress,” said spokeswoman Ashley Snee. “It was not the intent to suggest minority members should not ask questions without the consent of the majority.”

Written by jthurber

November 10th, 2003 at 12:06 pm

Posted in mild-rantings