There are lots of folks who are frustrated with Montana Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus at the moment — mostly on health care issues. One of the odd bottom lines for Max, however, is that the more frustrated Dems are with him on policy matters, the more solid his support is in Montana.
But I want to raise another issue that is not about policy — and is about abuse of power and pushing the investigatory part of “advice and consent” in presidential nominations to outrageous levels.
According to multiple sources, there is a staffer on the minority side of the Finance Committee who is going to absurd levels investigating the financial backgrounds of Obama administration nominees who fall under the jurisdiction of the committee.
Why is Max Baucus not confronting ranking Member Senator Chuck Grassley and this particular staffer with a direct confrontation about the absurdities and abuse that are now leaking out of the Committee?
Baucus is Chairman. He has real power. Is he using it? Is he afraid of Grassley and this staffer for some reason?
What I have learned is that a senior Obama administration official who has been languishing for some time in the Committee process — and who this country really does need in his/her job because of the consequential portfolio that needs management now — has had to put up with some of the most abusive and invasive investigations into financial matters of which I have ever heard.
This Committee staffer, in one example, wanted to see if the reporting of a “home office” on tax forms was legitimate. On the respective nominees, tax forms — a square footage and percentage of house allocated to the office were designated. So, the staffer actually sent someone to the nominee’s home to “measure” whether the square footage reporting was accurate or not. That’s right. . .they went out to “measure” the house.
But wait, it gets better.
Then the staffer challenged the “valuation” of the home — and the nominee showed the Committee staff the local government valuation and assessment of the home — which is a legal record.
The staffer subjectively asserted that the valuation was too high — and thus the deduction thus too high — and ordered that a new valuation of the home be done.
What in the hell is this? They disregarded official government valuations of a house?
And why are we taxpayers not only paying for the absurd abuse of power of a Congressional staffer who has so gone beyond any reasonable mandate that he should be seriously counseled (I won’t say terminated) but also losing out because this ridiculous process is holding up a key appointment that actually does matter for the affairs and interests of the United States.
Having been a Senate staffer, I don’t often want to be out there challenging staffers in Congress as they generally work hard, do great — often unrecognized — work for the nation, always in the names of their “bosses.”
But in this case, either Max Baucus has not figured out that he has the power to shut down and expose this abuse being done by staff, who minority or not, are still in his jurisdiction — or Chuck Grassley is derelict in his duty to hold his own staff to credible standards of performance.
Fix this problem — or some of us are going to start doing a lot more investigating of the so-called investigators. What I have learned over the last few days about Finance Committee investigations is really outrageous and deserves some serious investigative journalist sniffing.
— Steve Clemons