Conservative of the Year: Rep. Darrell Issa
The rule of law is a matter of much concern lately, thanks to President Obama’s extraordinary use, and often flagrant abuse, of executive power. Congress held hearings on the subject in December, with some of the most damning testimony coming from leading liberal intellectuals. For the past five years, no one has worked more diligently to hold this Administration accountable than Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who represents northern San Diego County, and chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
After serving in the Army and reaching the rank of captain, Issa built an impressive private-sector business resume, founding Directed Electronics, manufacturer of the famed Viper vehicle anti-theft system. He also held the chairmanship of the Consumer Electronics Association, host of the landmark Consumer Electronics Show held each year in Las Vegas. He won his seat in the House of Representatives in 2001. During his years in Congress, he has earned a 91 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, along with high marks from both economic conservative organizations such as Americans for Prosperity, and social conservative groups like the Family Research Council and the National Right to Life Committee.
A noted critic of the Troubled Asset Relief Program that was used to bail out banks after the 2008 financial crisis, and a longtime skeptic of housing policies carried out by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Issa made a speciality of transparency and accountability in government, culminating in his chairmanship of House Oversight throughout the Obama Administration. They’ve given him plenty to work on, particularly with respect to the big scandals the mainstream media didn’t want to discuss: Operation Fast and Furious, the Benghazi attacks, and the IRS targeting of conservative groups.
It was the House Oversight Committee’s investigation of Operation Fast and Furious after the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010 that brought the details of this bizarre Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms program to light, and revealed the involvement of numerous other government agencies.
The idea behind letting guns “walk” across the border into Mexico, with the ultimate goal of taking down the drug kingpins who use them to rub out enemies of the cartels, was not new. But gun walking had never before been attempted on the scale of Fast and Furious, and never with such lax security precautions. The House Oversight Committee’s requests for documentation were stonewalled and slow-walked by the Administration, eventually resulting in the invocation of executive privilege by President Obama, and the full House of Representatives voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt… which are incongruous developments for something originally presented to the American people as the work of a few overzealous ATF agents in a single field office.
The same pattern of obfuscation and delay met House Oversight’s investigation into the Benghazi attacks, where Issa’s committee issued a report accusing the State Department of obstructing congressional investigators, and chided the nominally independent Accountability Review Board for a distinct lack of enthusiasm for holding anyone accountable. Benghazi remains the debacle absolutely no one was responsible for, with the very fleeting exception of four mid-level bureaucrats who were briefly placed on administrative leave by incoming Secretary of State John Kerry.
The full dimensions of the IRS scandal were revealed in Rep. Issa’s committee chambers, as the story mutated from claims of a few low-level rogue agents in Cincinnati running wild, to a scandal that involved officials at the highest levels of the Internal Revenue Service… one of whom, Tax Exempt Organizations manager Lois Lerner, took the extraordinary step of invoking the Fifth Amendment to escape from testimony before House Oversight. The Treasury Inspector General’s report requested by Issa and Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) prompted Lerner to formally acknowledge that the IRS improperly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
It has been the Administration’s lack of candor – its extreme reluctance to make documents and witnesses available – that make these hearings so chaotic, frequently obliging Issa to remind House Democrats and the White House that his function is a duty of Congress, not a sideshow in Washington’s never-ending spin wars. In an Administration that often seems to be composed entirely of rogue low-level employees, Issa never stops asking where the orders really came from… and they always turn out to be emanating from a higher level than agency heads or the White House initially claimed.
The public would not know much about these scandals, or the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare, without Issa’s efforts. The reason we know that only six people signed up on ObamaCare’s first day is that House Oversight came into possession of internal Administration notes. Most of the details about the botched design of the Healthcare.gov website, and the so-called “tech surge” intended to fix it, have emerged from Oversight committee hearings and document requests. Issa and his colleagues are the only people in government who seem interested in scrutinizing the hugely expensive “navigator” program of ObamaCare consumer assistants. And while the Administration touts the radical expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act as a huge success, the House Oversight Committee conducted an investigation into the New York program – the largest in the country – that led to a $1.2 billion crackdown on overpayments by the Department of Heath and Human Services.
In addition to his oversight duties, Rep. Issa has also been trying to reform the U.S. Postal Service, another effort that has often ended with Democrats huffing that they don’t want to talk about it. Postal reform might not seem like the most cutting-edge topic with a hurricane of emails blowing through our lives, but that’s exactly why it’s important – the USPS still provides an important service, but its policies are a strange relic of a bygone era when communication occurred largely on printed paper, delivered by hand to the front doors of every house. Its business model has never been adjusted to reflect Information Age realities. It operates under rules unlike any other government agency or private business. A huge amount of taxpayer money, and a large number of jobs, are at stake.
Issa has done excellent work explaining the relevance of the Postal Service to a generation that thinks “mail” either appears instantly on their smartphones, or is delivered by snails. He’s also taken on some powerful special interests in a long-running reform battle that is often eclipsed by more spectacular Washington developments. Issa’s reform proposals have been adjusted in response to criticism from his opponents, in the spirit of constructive compromise that everyone supposedly desires from Congress. He’s working to bring a venerable institution into a future that was unimaginable at the time of its inception. What could be more conservative than that?
Rep. Issa is one of the GOP’s heaviest hitters on social media, from Facebook and Reddit to Twitter. Some observers find his toughest competition for the top Republican online presence to be the staff of the House Oversight Committee he chairs, as they bring video of major committee hearings online with stunning speed. Issa is noted for his willingness to engage with fans and detractors alike online.
Intellectual property rights and Internet security have always been among his top legislative priorities. He was a key part of the resistance to SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill that was considered virtually unstoppable until Issa and a few of his colleagues started asking tough questions about it. His dedication to a free and open Internet appears prominently in his profile on every online service (and he seems to have a presence on nearly all of them.) He has spoken of the open Internet as an important frontier for conservatism.
He also knows how to have fun online. Despite his formidable reputation as lead congressional investigator, he’s a reliable source for cat photos. He has a good grip on how to use humor to attract viral attention online. During the ObamaCare launch disaster, he authored a photo-illustrated blog post entitled “Eight Cats Who Called 1-800-ObamaCare But Still Couldn’t Get Healthcare.” Cat Number 5 was especially amusing.
It is strange, and disturbing, to watch some on the Left applaud the Obama Administration’s ability to escape oversight, casting Darrell Issa as Javert to Barack Obama’s Jean Valjean. Obviously the functions of Issa’s office will lead to partisan grumbling when the White House is held by the opposite party… and accusations that House Oversight has become a slumbering lapdog when it’s controlled by the President’s party. But the tactics used by this Administration to thwart oversight merit no applause. It is to Issa’s credit that he keeps demanding document and testimony until he gets them. His critics never seem able to make the case that he’s asking the wrong questions, or has no right to ask them.
When the Left’s crows that Oversight hearings can’t seem to get anyone fired, they reveal a dismaying lack of interest in the honest and efficient management of the massive government they believe morally entitled, and intellectually qualified, to run so much of American life. They’re also forgetting how many astonishing things have been said by nervous officials in Issa’s hearing rooms.
Transparency is a quintessentially conservative government attribute, an acknowledgement of the primacy of the people as masters of a State that should be allowed to conceal only a very few, highly sensitive aspects of its operation from them. The Left believes government should know plenty about its citizens, without returning the favor. The federal government is immense and powerful now, boasting an executive branch that holds diminishing respect for the legislature. We are told that a great many things must be kept hidden from us for our own good. For his tireless insistence on the free flow of information from government to its citizens, his confidence that free people can make wise decisions when provided with good data, and his determination to restrain the size of government, HUMAN EVENTS names Rep. Darrell Issa Conservative of the Year for 2013.
Chairman Issa issued a statement in response to the award:
“I am deeply honored that Human Events, the favorite newspaper of Ronald Reagan, has chosen me as 2013’s Conservative of the Year. As Chairman of the Committee for Oversight and Government Reform, I have endeavored to defend the American people’s right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. Increased transparency leads to increased accountability. Abuses occur under every Administration, but today with a sweeping new health care law, an IRS that got caught abusing its authority, and abuses of powerful technology to eavesdrop on American citizens, government is playing a more intrusive role in our lives than ever before. I view this award as recognizing the importance of oversight, a fundamental responsibility of Congress that has a been a greater point emphasis over the last year than any other point in my 13 years of public service.
“This year, the Oversight Committee focused on the many problems with ObamaCare and HealthCare.gov, the IRS’s inappropriate targeting of conservative groups, excessive government conference spending, ending billions in waste in federal IT procurement, stopping Medicaid fraud in New York and finding answers about the events surrounding the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, among many other issues. We have also advanced bipartisan legislation to improve transparency and spending, the DATA Act, which creates an online database so Americans can see just where their tax dollars are going, and pushed for postal reforms that would save taxpayers billions.”