Democrats want anti-Bush loyalist for GAO director
Congressional Democrats are pushing for the appointment of a party loyalist and frequent critic of President George W. Bush to a powerful government watchdog post that historically has gone to nonpartisan nominees.
The post is comptroller general of the United States, who directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO), often called Congress’ auditor. At the request of lawmakers, it has wide power to investigate all government functions, and its written reports and testimony can mean life or death for government programs.
A special congressional selection commission typically compiles a bipartisan list of recommendations and sends it to the president, who chooses a nominee from the list for Senate approval to a 15-year term.
But bipartisan talks broke off for the current GAO opening. Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, unilaterally sent a letter to President Obama listing four names.
Republicans say the Democrats abandoned bipartisanship because they want the job to go to Linda Bilmes, a former Clinton administration political appointee and current Harvard University professor.
Republicans supported the three others on the Democrats’ list — Rep. Todd R. Platts, Pennsylvania Republican; acting GAO chief Gene L. Dodaro; and former Assistant Comptroller General Ira Goldstein — but not Ms. Bilmes, a registered Democrat. They say the fact that Democrats took the extraordinary step of recommending Ms. Bilmes anyway shows they want her in the traditionally independent job.
“President Obama has a choice to make,” said Rep. Darrell Issa of California, a GAO selection panel member and the senior Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “He can either follow the unfortunate and partisan path put forward by congressional Democrats and nominate an ideologue like Linda Bilmes or he can uphold GAO’s appropriate role as a nonpartisan and neutral broker. At the end of the day, the politicization of the GAO will be met with hostility and will not withstand Senate confirmation.”
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, tells a different story. He said Republican staff members blocked the process.
“Democrats and Republicans had been working diligently to find a group of candidates on which all members could agree,” Mr. Manley said in an e-mail to The Washington Times. “We reached an impasse and Democrats agreed on a slate of candidates — Dodaro, Goldstein, Bilmes, and Platts. It was a bipartisan list. We’ve got a Republican member of Congress on there. We presented the list to the Republican leadership on March 9 to give them a slate of candidates that the Dems could agree on. We asked for their input or if there were other people that they wanted to put on the list. We received no constructive feedback on our list, only claims that they couldn’t get this in front of their bosses. — We followed up several times over the next two weeks before finally sending out a Democratic list on March 23.”
The complaints against Ms. Bilmes:
• She has written a series of op-ed columns critical of Mr. Bush, especially over the Iraq war, which she wanted the U.S. to end. She was a cast member in the liberal documentary “No End in Sight,” which ridiculed Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy while delighting the anti-war movement.
• Her co-authored book, “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” contends that the cost of the Iraq conflict was far greater than just the money budgeted for operations and rebuilding. Conservatives panned her assessment for what they considered the double-counting of procurement and personnel costs that would have happened anyway, war or no war.
• She has written a series of columns criticizing the Iraq war. A 2005 article also thumped the Pentagon for trying to recruit more Hispanics.
“Throughout history, nations have sent their poorest to be foot soldiers,” she wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “In that long, sad tradition, Uncle Sam is now beckoning its most recent immigrants to fight this war so the rest of us don’t have to.”
• Federal Election Commission records show she has donated $16,400 to Democrats since 2000, including all the party’s major presidential nominees, and none to Republicans. Her contributions for the 2008 race included $2,300 each to Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and $3,300 to John Edwards.