Dems seem uninterested in regulating White House political office under Obama
Nick Juliano
Published: Thursday November 13, 2008

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Less than a month ago, Democrats excoriated President Bush and his administration over the conduct of the White House Office of Political Affairs, and a House panel recommended the office be closed or reorganized.

With Democrat Barack Obama preparing for his move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the calls to reform the office, which coordinates the president's initiatives with key factions of his party, have grown silent, and all indications are that a political apparatus will continue to exist in the White House for the foreseeable future.

On Thursday, Politico noted that Obama had been virtually silent on calls to eliminate the White House's politics office, and Marc Ambinder reported that it was "probably true" that Obama's White House would include the operation.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, almost certainly will not move forward with any legislative attempts to shut down the political affairs office or re-write the law that allows it to exist anytime soon.

"That's probably not going to be a priority that they're going to push," an aide to a Democratic member of the House Oversight Committee tells RAW STORY.

The continued operation of a taxpayer-funded White House political operation discouraged some good-government advocates who hoped that an Obama presidency would herald a new era of integrity.

"I would be very disappointed if Obama would continue that office," Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen said in an interview Thursday. "I never thought his silence was due to the fact that he wanted to continue a Karl Rove style administration, and I don't know what he has in mind for it."

Last month, the committee issued a 27-page report (.pdf) cataloguing the various ways Bush's White House abused the office, including arranging taxpayer-funded trips for cabinet secretaries to appear with embattled members of Congress around election time. Under Bush, the political affairs office was headed by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, among others.

The report recommended shuttering the office, which Ronald Reagan established upon entering the White House in 1981.

"If the political affairs office is retained," the report said, "it's activities should be restructured to ensure that it serves the interests of the taxpayer, not the political party of the president."

Whether such restructuring will occur remains to be seen, but the enthusiasm for such reforms seems to have waned. A spokesman for President-elect Obama said the transition team would not comment on the political affairs office. A representative for Oversight Chairman Henry Waxman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In recent weeks, Waxman and the rest of the Oversight Committee has been focused largely on the financial services industry and probing the causes of the ongoing financial crisis. The committee held a hearing on hedge funds and financial markets Thursday.

However, there are other indications that the California Democrat seems less enthusiastic about continuing the tenacious watchdog role he's occupied during the last two years of the Bush administration, beginning with the fact that the day after the election Waxman announced his intention to overthrow Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) as chair of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

It's not uncommon for the Oversight Committee to be a bit more lax during times of unified party control of Congress and the White House. For example, Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), who chaired the committee before the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006, issued just 10 subpoenas to investigate the Bush administration, compared to the 1,000 subpoenas former Republican Oversight Chairman Dan Burton issued during the Clinton administration, Waxman noted in a speech this summer.

However, Waxman promised to be as hard on a potential Obama administration as he's been on President Bush.

"Investigations should be driven by genuine need, not partisan priorities," Waxman told attendees of a National Press Club luncheon in June, according to an account of the speech in CongressNow (via Nexis). "It's just as important to investigate and to hold the executive branch accountable, even if it's the same political party as Congress."

Now that Obama's election is complete, it remains to be seen whether Waxman follows through on that commitment regarding the White House Office of Political Affairs is concerned.

"I wish Waxman would stick to his guns; he knows this office should not be paid for by taxpayers," Holman told RAW STORY. "The fact that he's not making any public comment on it suggests to the public that maybe his oversight has just been partisan."