Finally! Somebody is showing the backbone the Founders expected of the House of Representatives in its exclusive exercise of the power of the purse. Rep. Frank Wolf is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee panel with jurisdiction over the Department of Justice budget. The Virginia Republican has repeatedly asked the department for documents and information that Congress and the American people inarguably have a right to see. And over and over again, Wolf has been stymied by Attorney General Eric Holder and other high-ranking Obama administration appointees in the Justice Department.
As J. Christian Adams, a PJ Media columnist and former Justice Department attorney, noted Friday, the Omnibus Act of 2013 requires 66 separate reports to Congress by department officials on their activities. Weary of the disrespectful responses he was getting - including materials that clearly were not responsive to what was requested, or documents so redacted as to be useless in oversight - Wolf has come up with a creative and constitutionally sound tactic for dealing with the situation, which he described during a hearing last week:
|The present Republican House - apparently terrified of being accused by the New York Times of obstructionism - has avoided its constitutional duty of withholding funds from unpopular programs and policies.|
“Today, I am announcing a new policy that these overdue reports will no longer be tolerated by the committee. When our Fiscal Year 2015 bill is marked up this spring, I intend to withhold $1 million for every overdue report from the FY 2013 and FY 2014 bills. The funds will be provided instead to agencies in this bill that comply with reporting requirements. With the current backlog of 43 reports, this could be a significant reduction in funds for the department. But you have now been given fair warning that these overdue reports will now be taken into account when the subcommittee determines your budget.”
That is exactly what the Founders intended by giving the House the power to decide how much money executive branch departments and agencies can spend and what they spend it on. The model for that provision of the U.S. Constitution was the British House of Commons, which had often used the power of the purse to force English monarchs and the House of Lords to bow to the will of the people’s representatives.
Unfortunately, the present Republican House – apparently terrified of being accused by the New York Times of obstructionism – has avoided its constitutional duty of withholding funds from programs and policies without majority support in the lower chamber of Congress.
Wolf's subcommittee is far from the only congressional panel to be dissed by the Obama administration. When the Washington Examiner last year examined 100 document requests from eight major House committees to the administration, it found that “nearly half of the requests were denied outright, answered with irrelevant or inadequate materials, or seriously delayed … The Energy and Commerce Committee, for example was forced to issue subpoenas when White House officials refused to answer eight of the panel's 11 requests, beginning in 2011.”
Sadly, Wolf is retiring at the end of his current term. It is to be hoped that his successor will be as courageous and principled.