It's Checks and Balances, Mr. Russert

Perhaps Mr. Russert has forgotten, but I have been a Chairman before. That was back when Congress did something called "oversight."
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It's not every day a Congressman from Detroit has his name mentioned on, not one, but two Sunday morning news shows.

First, on ABC's This Week, I was taken to task by none other than the soon-to-be-ex-Congressman Tom DeLay. Democrats should not be allowed to take back the House, he said. Why? Because, he claimed, "John Conyers will be the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee if the Democrats take over. John Conyers is to the left of your next guest, Howard Dean and he's already participated in mock impeachment hearings." Funny, I don't remember that hearing. I did organize a Democratic forum on the Downing Street Minutes, but that was not about impeachment, and the Republicans wouldn't even let us have a room for it.

Next, none other than Tim Russert launched an attack. While interviewing my Leader, Nancy Pelosi, Russert intoned ominously "The chair of the Judiciary cmte would be someone named John Conyers, I went to his website and this is what was on his website." He then showed the headline of my website where I call for the creation of a Sam Ervin-style bipartisan Committee, equally composed of Democrats and Republicans, to investigate pre-war manipulation of intelligence and other matters and, if warranted, to make recommendations to the Judiciary Committee on possible grounds for impeachment.

"That's the man who would be Chairman of the Judiciary Committee," Russert ominously declared. He then asked if "John Conyers should take down his website."

Perhaps Mr. Russert has forgotten, but I have been a Chairman before. For five years, from 1989 to 1994, I was the Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, now called the Government Reform Committee. I have a record of trying to expose government waste, fraud and abuse.

That was back when Congress did something called "oversight." You know, in our tri-partite system of government, when Congress actually acted like a co-equal branch. The Republican Congress decided to be a rubber stamp for President Bush instead.

Perhaps, if we had a little oversight, we wouldn't be mired in a war based on false pretenses in which we have lost thousands of our brave men and women in uniform and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

Perhaps we would not have had an energy policy drawn up in secret with oil company executives that has led to gas prices of more than three dollars per gallon.

Perhaps, if we had a little oversight, we wouldn't have a prescription drug plan written by the pharmaceutical companies, that prohibits the government from negotiating for lower prices with the same drug companies, and that no one really understands.

Perhaps, if we had a little oversight, we would know the extent to which our own government is spying on our phone calls, emails and other communications, contrary to the law of the land.

Oversight should not be a partisan undertaking. As we saw in the late 90's, when oversight is used out of anger or spite, or to gain partisan advantage, the American people express their strong disapproval.

Personally, I have had enough partisanship for the last six years to last a lifetime and I think we need to bring the American people back together.

But we also need to serve their interests. Congressional oversight is part of that. It is a check and balance, designed to protect the American people from too much power being concentrated in too few hands.

If I become a Chairman again, I intend to push for oversight of this Administration. Our Constitutional system of government requires no less.

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