Sticks and stones

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-Calif.), incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he misspoke when he called President Obama "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." Rather, Mr. Issa now says, Mr. Obama has merely presided over "one of the most corrupt administrations." That is hardly more restrained or more responsible. It is in fact patently false.

Mr. Issa's evidence for his assertion is - well, it would be an exaggeration to call it scant. "When you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

There can be disagreement over the wisdom of the Troubled Assets Relief Program, the fund proposed by President George W. Bush in 2008 to bail out financial institutions and, eventually, car companies during the financial crisis. But under Mr. Obama's leadership, TARP has ended up costing the taxpayer far less than originally anticipated; last fall the Congressional Budget Office estimated its eventual total cost at $66 billion. Similarly, it's fair to argue that the stimulus was misguided or ineffective. But evidence of corruption in its administration is negligible, impressively so given the enormous sums involved.

Mr. Issa is about to be entrusted with one of the most serious jobs in Congress, armed with subpoena power reaching across the federal government. Oversight is a critical congressional function, one that too often has been abandoned. But Mr. Issa's repeated, inflammatory rhetoric is not commensurate with a responsible exercise of that role. One of the first things over which the congressman needs to exercise better oversight is his own loose talk.

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