A Specter of Action

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 5, 2006; 7:46 AM

Once upon a time, Congress engaged in oversight of the executive branch.

In the last five years, though, that concept has been tossed out the window. The Republican-controlled Congress has little desire to investigate, examine, audit, scrutinize, challenge, call on the carpet or in any way bother a Republican White House. With precious few exceptions, it's been rubber-stamp time. (This in sharp contrast, of course, to the zillion congressional probes of the Clinton administration.)

But one committee chairman is about to change that, and you may not be surprised to learn that it's Arlen Specter.

Like him or hate him, Specter seems one of the few denizens of the Hill this side of McCain & Feingold willing to tick off his own party on a matter of principle. The Pennsylvania Republican has the old-fashioned notion that Congress is a co-equal branch of government and therefore has a duty to hold the executive branch accountable.

The pro-choice Specter, you may recall, was almost denied the Judiciary chairmanship after sounding off about how the Senate was likely to reject staunchly anti-abortion judicial nominees. Well, his independent streak is alive and well.

He is big news in the Boston Globe for vowing action on a story that broke in, yes, the Boston Globe:

"The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing the White House of a 'very blatant encroachment' on congressional authority, said he will hold an oversight hearing into President Bush's assertion that he has the power to bypass more than 750 laws enacted over the past five years.

"'There is some need for some oversight by Congress to assert its authority here,' Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said in an interview. 'What's the point of having a statute if . . . the president can cherry-pick what he likes and what he doesn't like?'

"Specter said he plans to hold the hearing in June. He said he intends to call administration officials to explain and defend the president's claims of authority, as well to invite constitutional scholars to testify on whether Bush has overstepped the boundaries of his power."

Hotline rounded up some blog reaction. Talk Left picks up on the senator's remark about "some need for oversight":

"Some need? There's been a compelling need for half a decade. Where have you been, Senator?

"Specter says the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings in July 'into President Bush's assertion that he has the power to bypass more than 750 laws enacted over the past five years.' We can predict that Attorney General Gonzales will haul out one of the administration's standard responses: the president's power to protect the nation (from whatever) is limitless, and his interpretations of the Constitution are more important than those of Congress or the courts."


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