Democrats Assail Gingrich 'Reserve Fund'
By Ann Curley/CNN
WASHINGTON (March 25) -- The House Oversight Committee has approved a $3.1 million disbursement from the "reserve fund" controlled by Speaker Newt Gingrich, destined for the House Judiciary and Government Reform and Oversight committees. The vote on each matter was 4-2, along party lines.
Democrats, who dubbed the money "the Speaker's slush fund," and have been vociferous in their demands for a full House vote on any disbursements from the fund, argued against providing the money to the two committees.
Oversight Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) bantered with Democrats, arguing that the purpose of the money is for "extraordinary emergencies or high-priority" situations, claiming that the Government Reform campaign finance investigation, as well as the Judiciary Committee's oversight of the Justice Department qualify as "high-priority" situations.
House Democrats were outraged that disbursements are being released without approval by the entire House of Representatives.
The $7.9 million fund was created by the House Republican leadership for unanticipated and high priority expenditures. Gingrich approved $1.8 million from the fund to go to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee while another $1.3 million was earmarked for the Judiciary Committee.
Under current policy, once a disbursement is approved by the Speaker, the House Oversight Committee simply rubber-stamps the disbursement, without requiring the entire House to vote on the matter.
"The slush funds have mainly been used to further partisan political agendas of investigations at taxpayers' expense," said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), a member of the oversight panel.
Hoyer has introduced legislation entitled the "Slush Fund Accountability Act," requiring a vote of the entire House before money can be disbursed from the fund.
Hoyer urged reform of the disbursement system, saying, "There is no floor vote, no floor debate and no accountability for these millions of added spending on Congress itself."
Said Hoyer: "Rather than focusing on the issues of concern to ordinary Americans such as health care, childcare, education, environment, campaign finance reform, this Congress is choosing to use its limited time and precious taxpayer-provided resources to indulge in a seemingly never-ending spree of partisan witch hunts."
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) of the Judiciary Committee said, "The fundamental issue is this: They won't tell us what they're going to use the money for, and it is indicative of a pattern in which the Judiciary Committee Democrats have been shut out of any conversation about what to do about [Independent Counsel] Kenneth Starr or these other things."
Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, requested the additional funding in December 1997, for the purpose of "overseeing the Justice Department," but has recently not ruled out the possibility that the money might be used if Starr deems impeachment proceedings necessary.
Thomas assured his committee that if the House embarks on impeachment hearings as a result of Starr's Whitewater investigation, the entire House will definitely vote on that spending.
Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) said, "When we ask for information to see how the money has already been spent, we a get a 'duh.' What we're asking is that the entire Congress vote on whatever comes out of our House Oversight Committee."