House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formation of a new coronavirus oversight committee led by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who last month said the pandemic gives Democrats “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”
The speaker’s announcement on Thursday comes as her caucus plots another relief package, with a national vote-by-mail requirement as a top priority. Pelosi faced criticism in March after stalling the then-proposed stimulus bill in favor of her own version, which included increased fuel emissions standards for airlines, an expansion of wind and solar credits, and vote-by-mail provisions. President Donald Trump called the Democrat’s proposal “crazy.”
Pelosi said Thursday the committee would monitor the billions in federal money spent fighting the virus and would have subpoena power. House Republicans immediately expressed concern over Clyburn’s participation, arguing that his March remarks indicate he is looking to use the pandemic as a pretext to advance Democratic policy goals.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday said he is concerned by the choice. “[The committee] is concerning to me because Congressman Clyburn is the one who thought this crisis was an opportune time to restructure government,” McCarthy said in a conference call with reporters. “That’s not what we should be doing.”
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Pelosi said in a Thursday conference call that the committee would ensure the $2 trillion in coronavirus relief is “spent carefully and effectively,” but McCarthy indicated that Republicans were given few details on the committee, which will need to be approved by Congress before it is launched.
“For that committee to get up and running, it takes a vote of Congress,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know when we’d go back and vote on this, I don’t know what the budget would be, I don’t know what the responsibility would be.”
Other top House Republicans argued that existing congressional oversight efforts are sufficient and that a new committee will only hamper the federal response to the pandemic.
“Our committee has a very rich tradition of both parties doing very effective and aggressive, bipartisan oversight,” Rep. Greg Walden, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said. “We’re already conducting oversight, looking at what’s working, what’s not, and how we can learn from any mistakes that we made. I think creating yet another committee is a big mistake.” He added that the committee “will be costly and cause conflict and delay.”
The stimulus package already allocates $45 million toward oversight, with $25 million to establish a special inspector general tasked with tracking the Department of the Treasury’s stimulus spending. Another $20 million went to the Government Accountability Office, which will “help Congress conduct oversight of the spending,” according to the House Committee on Oversight Reform. Committee chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney praised the bill’s oversight provisions, saying they will “ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectively and efficiently.”
Pelosi’s creation of a new oversight committee may highlight a lack of trust in her members who are already charged with oversight, McCarthy said.
“I’m just wondering, does the speaker not trust the Oversight Committee? I know she’s got a new chair on that committee, and all the other committees to go through, or committees being created with the last bill itself,” McCarthy said. “So it mainly questions, to me, what the speaker is trying to do with that.”
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Clyburn did not respond to request for comment.