The House now plans to vote on Thursday to set up a powerful new oversight committee with subpoena power to probe the trillions of dollars of federal spending in response to the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democratic-led committee, which Republicans have resisted, is expected to have broad power to oversee the historic-level of US spending to prop up the economy and combat the public health crisis. It is not expected to probe the initial response by President Donald Trump, who has been sharply criticized by Democrats for moving too slowly.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the committee would be created earlier this month, but the panel, which will be chaired by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, needs to be approved by the full House to get up and running.
The decision to vote Thursday to formally establish the committee marks a shift in plans after lawmakers were initially not expected to hold the vote on Thursday and were instead expected to vote on a new rule to allow members to vote remotely during the pandemic.
Pelosi said on a call with Democrats on Wednesday that the chamber will vote to establish the coronavirus select committee tomorrow and won’t vote on a rule change to allow remote voting, a source on a call told CNN.
Pelosi said on the call that after speaking with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy they are tasking a bipartisan group of House lawmakers to review remote voting, a Democratic leadership aide said. The House will not consider proxy voting this week, the source added.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers include McCarthy, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Reps. Jim McGovern, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Tom Cole, the ranking Republican member on the Rules Committee, Zoe Lofgren, the chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, and Rodney Davis, the ranking Republican on the Administration Committee.
The vote to formally stand up the new committee will take place on the same day that the House is expected to approve a new $484 billion coronavirus relief package to help small businesses and hospitals and expand Covid-19 testing. The measure passed the Senate by voice vote on Tuesday.
That legislative package amounts to the latest unprecedented effort by Washington to prop up the economy, and it comes on the heels of a massive $2 trillion rescue package along with a $192 billion relief measure and another $8.3 billion plan that Congress has approved to address the devastation of the pandemic.
As Congress has enacted far-reaching and sweeping relief measures, lawmakers have also raised concerns over accountability and transparency of how they will be enacted and have called for oversight of the implementation of the legislation.
Pelosi said earlier this month that the new coronavirus oversight committee, which she has referred to as the House Select Committee on the coronavirus crisis, will “have an expert staff and the committee will be empowered to examine all aspects of the federal response to coronavirus and to ensure that the taxpayers dollars are being wisely and efficiently spent to save lives, deliver relief, and benefit our economy.”
In a letter to House Democrats explaining the decision to create the committee, Pelosi wrote, “Its purpose is to ensure that the over $2 trillion that Congress has dedicated to this battle — and any additional funds Congress provides in future legislation — are spent wisely and effectively.”
But it won’t be the only watchdog exercising oversight of the coronavirus response.
The $2.2 trillion stimulus package, the largest in history signed into law last month, created several overlapping oversight entities to keep tabs on spending that would be doled out by the Trump administration.
The legislation established a new special inspector general for pandemic recovery appointed by the President, a new oversight body within the inspectors general community and an independent congressional panel appointed by House and Senate leaders. The law also gave $20 million to the nonpartisan congressional watchdog, the Government Accountability Office.
That’s part of the reason why some Republicans have objected to Pelosi’s move to establish a new committee.
McCarthy criticized Pelosi’s decision earlier this month, arguing that such a committee would be “redundant” because existing House committees are able to exercise oversight, and there are other oversight provisions in the coronavirus legislation that has been passed.
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