New Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Monday his party will launch investigative hearings next year in response to what he said was the reluctance of Republicans to look into problems in the Bush administration.
"There are too many unasked and unanswered questions and the American public deserves better," the Nevada senator said at a news conference.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who heads the Democratic Policy Committee, said the first hearing will be at the end of January and he suggested it might focus on contract abuse in Iraq. He said the policy committee, which has held occasional investigative hearings in the past, planned to convene at least one such hearing a month.
Dorgan said that with Republicans controlling the White House and both the House and Senate, "the congressional watchdog remains fast asleep in this Congress."
Reid is stepping in to replace Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota as Senate minority leader in January. But the new most-powerful Democrat in Congress won't have the split Senate Daschle began with; he will have just 44 Democrats in his caucus.
The 65-year old workhorse Nevadan has an ambitious slate of goals, including evening back out the majority-minority split in the Senate.
Both he and Dorgan said Republican-led congressional committees, which have held oversight hearings on such subjects as prison abuse in Iraq and Pentagon waste, have fallen short of fulfilling the role of Congress to oversee executive branch excesses.
They said issues that "cry out" for closer investigation, in addition to contracting abuses in Iraq, include the administration's use of prewar intelligence and its reported effort to stifle information about the true cost of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. Reid also mentioned global warming and the "No Child Left Behind" education program as topics that needed a closer look.
This news comes as Republican leaders consider action against two Democratic Senators who spoke out on the Senate floor against a secret spy program, according to Congressional Quarterly. Republicans may try to force Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to give up their seats on the Intelligence Committee for leaking information.
The Democratic-organized hearings urged by Dorgan and Reid would not have subpoena powers, but Dorgan said there are plenty of whistleblowers anxious to tell their story.
The two senators said they would step aside whenever Republicans agreed to hold regular committee hearings on a topic, and they would ask Republicans to provide testimony or witnesses at the Democratic hearings. Dorgan said 12 to 15 Senate Democrats would lead the new oversight effort.