The United States House of Representatives wields three great powers –to appropriate money, to legislate, and to conduct oversight of every function and component part of the federal government to ensure compliance with the Constitution and congressional intent.
While not express, Congress’ oversight power is universally recognized as implied through the “necessary and proper clause” in Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution. It is this power that is the least understood of Congress’ powers, and which has in recent decades been the least effectively employed.
In the coming 118th Congress that begins in early January 2023 with a Republican House majority, it is the oversight power that – if pursued seriously and effectively – will offer the Party the greatest opportunity to define itself in advance of the 2024 presidential election, and that will provide the key to reining in the disastrous policies of the Biden Administration.
Continued Democrat control of the Senate effectively neuters the power of the Republican Party to pass legislation reflecting the Party’s conservative values. This shortcoming means as well that it will be next to impossible to attach significant limits to federal spending for the remaining two years of the Biden Administration.
In the present environment, the only meaningful power remaining to Republicans is that of oversight, which can be employed regardless of what happens in the Senate.
If Republicans decide to conduct oversight as a way to rehash old grudges, to wreak vengeance on the other Party, or to grab headlines, they will have squandered a major opportunity to define and advance the Party’s agenda as well as the interests of the American people .
The clear results of the GOP’s failure to articulate a positive, forward-looking and solution-focused agenda in advance of last week’s midterms should serve as more than a post-mortem talking point. The electorate’s desire for solutions, accountability, and substance should provide the roadmap for House Republicans as they prepare their agenda for the 118th Congress. Effective oversight can deliver on those goals.
Headlines can, of course, be garnered and the GOP base energized if House Republicans use their new majority oversight power to pummel the already disgraced Hunter Biden, or to rehash the thoroughly discredited 2016 Russia hoax. The conservative base may cheer if the House rushes forward with impeachment proceedings against President Biden as payback for Democrats’ farcical impeachments of former President Trump.
What, however, will such actions accomplish for the country? How will such undertakings slow or stop the damage to the American economy and our national security by the current administration?
Instead of using oversight as a political tool to punish Democrats, House Republicans should use the power to draw serious and sustained attention to the actual damage Biden’s policies are doing to our borders, our economy, our justice system, our energy sector, and our military. In so doing they will provide a blueprint for implementing solutions in the next Republican administration.
How these oversight hearings are conducted is crucial.
Oversight hearings cannot be haphazard. They must be coordinated and follow a set plan, not only with and by the Oversight Committee, but by every other House committee, each of which has substantive investigative power over the federal agencies and officials within its defined jurisdiction.
The oversight agenda should begin with substantive reform of the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies as well as the Justice Department itself, focusing not on personalities but on the documented, systemic abuse of those agencies’ powers by the current administration.
The oversight needs to extend to every other department and agency that has had a hand in implementing the destructive Biden Administration policies that are undermining our sovereignty, decimating our country’s energy infrastructure, destroying its public schools, and impairing military readiness and recruitment.
Repeated hearings are essential, not one-off sessions. Officials should be called back repeatedly if necessary, not allowed to slip-slide away after a single day’s session.
Importantly, GOP leadership must be prepared to enforce discipline on its members in conducting oversight, to prevent straying into the short-sighted, sound-bite oriented, headline-grabbing mode that has characterized so many oversight initiatives in recent years.
Real oversight is tough. It takes discipline and hard work, which is perhaps why we have seen little of it by either Party in years past. However, if conducted properly in 2023-2024, it will help ensure that a Republican president is sworn in on January 20, 2025.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.