The House is forming a special committee composed of Republicans and Democrats to act as a watchdog over federal dollars devoted to responding to the coronavirus outbreak, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday.
The committee will “ensure that the taxpayers’ dollars” will be spent “wisely” and “efficiently,” Ms Pelosi told reporters. “We do need transparency. And we need accountability.”
Her comments come after both chambers passed three coronavirus relief bills that Donald Trump signed into law, including a $2.2trn economic recovery package last week.
Democrats raised concerns during that last round of talks about ensuring federal monies sent to large corporations were used to help workers, rather than company actions like stock buy-backs to help their bottom lines.
Ms Pelosi stressed that the House select committee on the coronavirus response would not amount to a sprawling investigation into the administration, but rather a bipartisan task force to “make sure there aren’t exploiters out there.”
The select committee would have subpoena power, she said, expressing optimism that Republicans would be open to the idea of installing the committee to root out wasteful spending and fraudulent behavior by people and businesses trying to exploit the new laws.
“We would hope that there would be cooperation” from the GOP, Ms Pelosi said.
That could be wishful thinking.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy expressed initial skepticism about Ms Pelosi’s proposal for a coronavirus select committee — and its proposed chairman, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.
“I have a couple concerns about this — one, who she’s naming, Clyburn,” Mr McCarthy said. “Congressman Clyburn is the one who thought this crisis was an opportune time to restructure the government,” Mr McCarthy said, referring to comments Mr Clyburn made at a Democratic House caucus call last month, widely reported in the media, about leveraging the coronavirus situation to bolster voting rights and other enfranchisement concerns.
Mr McCarthy also questioned the need for yet another panel to conduct oversight over the federal government’s ongoing coronavirus response when every House committee already exercises its extensive constitutional oversight powers.
And the economic recovery package passed last week created multiple independent oversight bodies to oversee the coronavirus response specifically, including a panel of inspectors general chaired by Acting Defense Department IG Glenn Fine, an office for a special inspector general for pandemic recovery endowed with a $25m budget from the Treasury Department, and a five-member congressional oversight commission.
“This seems really redundant,” the minority leader said. “First of all, we have the Oversight Committee in Congress that’s just focused on oversight. Every committee has a select committee on oversight.”
Ms Pelosi did not immediately elaborate Thursday on when she would officially form the select coronavirus panel.
Per chamber rules, the House must pass a resolution to form an official select committee. House Democratic leaders have indicated they do not expect to call the chamber back into session until at least 20 April.