2011 Congressional Hearing Season Off with a Bang – Testifying Before Congress, Update June 2011

Special note to readers of Testifying Before Congress and anyone searching for information about congressional hearings, Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForgewitnesses and testimony:

The following information is made available to you as part of the author’s promise to provide periodic updates, revisions and additions to the content of the book (see Appendix Thirteen, page 398, “Keep Up-to-Date”), and especially to highlight current and recent events that underscore themes that are advanced in the book or that demonstrate the need for a professional, organized and informed approach to preparing and delivering congressional testimony and serving as a witness.

2011 Congressional Hearing Season Off with a Bang

Congress wasted no time getting down to business early in the first session of the 112th Congress as it embarked upon ambitious hearing schedules in both houses. Routine hearings, including budget and appropriation hearings, occupied much of the spring agenda, but Congress is devoting a significant amount of attention this year to oversight hearings. (See “Testifying Before Congress,” Section 1.56, Oversight and Investigative Hearings.)

One distinct turn of events that drew a lot of attention was the wide array of oversight hearings that the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives called in recent months to review many of President Obama’s initiatives during his first two years in office. Particularly targeted are business regulations and healthcare provisions that were signed into law in 2010.

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) invited U.S. businesses to suggest regulations that need review or revisiting. Congressman Issa’s committee began a series of oversight hearings in February, 2011, that are continuing into the summer. Targeted issues include healthcare reform, Wall Street financial regulations, and a large number of environmental topics such as greenhouse gas emissions and coal ash disposal methods.

Fireworks broke out at a May 24, 2011 hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform when White House advisor Elizabeth Warren testified. In addition to sparring with the committee over the value of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau intended to police the financial markets, she also argued with the committee publicly about the length of the hearing, and she indicated that she had important meetings to attend. She is scheduled to return to testify before the committee on July 14, 2011, at which point the fireworks are expected to continue.

This same committee has focused its attention and hearings on the administration’s activities concerning the Gulf oil spill and its aftermath. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour appeared before the committee June 2, 2011, to explain that the disaster had more economic than environmental impact, and, even as a Republican standard-bearer, he was complimentary of the Obama administration’s handling of the incident. Michael Bromwich of the Dept. of Interior appeared on June 2, 2011, to explain and justify the administration’s efforts during and after the disaster.

Not to be outdone by the new Republican majority, House Democrats have used a series of mock hearings to draw attention to Democratic positions and priorities. The hearings are unofficial in nature, but allow the Democrats to focus on issues such as job creation, transportation and the nation’s infrastructure.

The Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee has held hearings over the last year or so, including in March, 2011, on the subject of the “czar” system used by President Obama and previous administrations. The oversight hearings are intended to explore whether the dozens of czars — high-level advisors not subject to Senate confirmation or the usual scrutiny of congressional oversight — appointed by the Obama administration constitute “an end run around the advice and consent process.”

From Final HITS: Humor in Testimony, Testifying Before Congress

“When witnesses come before Congress, I can ask them leading questions. There’s no one to object and no judge to rule against me. It’s great.”
— Former U.S. Representative Michael Arcuri (D-NY) (On making the transition from being a prosecutor to being a Member of Congress)

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