Politics

Empty seats: Obama snubs Issa on witnesses for stimulus hearing

In the latest sign of an increasingly antagonistic stand by Democrats against top GOP oversight official Rep. Darrell Issa, President Obama declined a request for a top economic adviser to testify before an oversight panel about the president’s economic stimulus law.

Obama spokesman Reid Cherlin indicated the move will be part of a general policy against top White House aides testifying before Congress, potentially setting the stage for a showdown on later, more important hearings.

“It has been a longstanding policy across Republican and Democratic administrations that senior White House advisers generally do not testify before Congress,” Cherlin said.

Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella said, “It really makes you wonder how much do they truly believe in their own work product when they aren’t willing to talk about it in a public forum.”

“The administration certainly didn’t seem to have any problem with touting the Romer-Bernstein report or making them available to go on TV to discuss it. Why would they have a problem with them coming before Congress?” Bardella said.

In the hearing, which concluded at noon, two seats at the witness table sat empty with name tags for Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden’s top economic adviser, and Christina Romer, the former head of the White House Council of Economic Advisors who has returned to her job at the University of California, Berkeley.

Both officials played key roles in crafting the stimulus.

The Obama administration offered to send two officials, one from the Commerce Department and one from the Department of Transportation, to testify.

Cherlin said the officials are “well-qualified to testify about the economic impact of the” stimulus. Bardella said, “The conversation that the members of this committee were interested in having weren’t about specific stimulus projects, but rather examining the broad impact of the stimulus.”

Following the appointment of Rep. Elijah Cummings as Issa’s combative new foil on the oversight committee, a series of early skirmishes shows Democrats taking an antagonistic stand against Issa.

For instance, Department of Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano missed two of Issa’s deadlines for documents related to the agency’s political interference with document requests from lawmakers, watchdog groups and journalists. The agency is now complying with the request.

Politico reported Tuesday a new liberal non-profit group headed by a former Hillary Clinton aide is being launched with the sole goal of undermining Issa.

Democrats have also been circulating thick opposition research files about Issa, whose past scuffles with the law have invited attacks from his opponents. In January, Ryan Lizza wrote an 8,000-word article for the New Yorker detailing Issa’s past.