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Darrell Issa Defends Rejection of Travel Funds for Oversight Democrats

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa defended his denial of travel funds to panel Democrats tonight, after Democrats on the House Administration Committee intervened and essentially launched a probe into his management.

In a letter sent tonight to House Administration ranking member Robert Brady (D-Pa.) and Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), the California Republican emphasized that he had done nothing wrong and accused Democrats on his committee of picking a partisan fight.

Brady and fellow House Administration Democrats Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Charlie Gonzalez (Texas) argued in a statement Wednesday that Issa is violating his pledge to allow the minority party to control its third of the Oversight panel’s budget. They were concerned about Issa’s decision to deny travel reimbursement for a federal drug control policy forum in Illinois arranged by Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), the ranking member of the Oversight subcommittee that oversees the issue. All committee members were invited, but after Issa denied the funds, only Davis and his chief of staff attended the forum, which was held this week.

In his letter to Brady and Lungren, Issa argued that the event was not a suitable use of committee funds, regardless of whether they came from the Democrats’ or the Republicans’ pools of money. 

“My decision to deny this request last week was … a result of the committee minority’s failure to fully address my concerns that the Chicago forum was not official committee business and therefore it was inappropriate to authorize the use of official committee funds in support of the event,” Issa wrote.

He added that he was concerned that the event was not a formal subcommittee field hearing, and he warned that it could run afoul of House ethics rules because it was held at a private charitable organization. He noted that he previously offered to work with Davis to hold a field hearing on drug policy that would qualify for reimbursement.

Issa also accused Oversight ranking member Elijah Cummings of exacerbating the issue. The Maryland Democrat, Davis and the ranking members of the remaining six subcommittees sent a letter Oct. 14 condemning Issa’s decision and accusing him of partisan obstructionism over how the minority party uses its travel funds.

“Your new policy appears to be that travel by Democratic staff is not for ‘official Committee business’ unless a Republican joins them,” they wrote. “This interpretation is unprecedented and contradicts the Committee’s policy when you were in the minority.”

When Issa did not agree to reverse his decision, Cummings approached his colleagues on the House Administration Committee, according to a Democratic Oversight aide. The House Administration Committee is responsible for overseeing the allocations and disbursements of all House committee funds, and Lungren was given a “courtesy heads-up” before panel Democrats sent their letter, according to a Democratic aide with the committee. Lungren’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Davis called the House Administration Committee’s involvement both “unusual and unfortunate,” saying he wished the matter could have been handled internally, between Issa and Cummings.

“I think we were looking for clarification about who has oversight over minority’s travel funds,” Davis said today. “I believe we thought it was the ranking member who decided that.”

The House Administration Democrats have asked Issa to respond to a series of questions about his panel’s policies regarding official travel, particularly travel by Democrats, in what appeared to be something of an informal probe.

Jamie Fleet, the staff director for House Administration Democrats, said Issa’s letter tonight fell short of their request.

“His response did not address the specific questions asked by our committee, notably ones on his own similar use of official funds,” Fleet wrote in an email. “Most importantly, Chairman Issa failed to guarantee the core principle of Minority rights and full control of one-third of the Committee’s budget as promised in his testimony to the House Administration Committee.”

Should this issue not resolve itself, Issa could be challenged early next year, when all chairmen and ranking members of House committees are required to testify before the House Administration Committee to provide updates on how they spend their budgets.

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