Our newly-elected speaker in the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, has a reputation for focusing on substance, policy and serious negotiations. Speaker Ryan now has a historic opportunity to shed former Speaker John Boehner's legacy of trying — and failing — to appease radicals in his own party who have been driving the GOP toward extremism.
In a recent column, the New York Times' David Brooks warned that "the Republican Party's capacity for effective self-governance degraded slowly" as the GOP "abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism."
Their "rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced," Mr. Brooks observed, and he warned that "inconvenient facts are ignored" while Republicans produced "elected leaders of jaw-dropping incompetence."
During the last five years, these problems have been on vivid display in the House, and I had a front-row seat as they reached their apex over the past month.
The 11-hour marathon hearing with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showcased this failed approach by Republican members of the Benghazi Select Committee, which was created by Speaker Boehner and is now one of the longest, least productive and most partisan congressional investigations in history.
Republicans were not interested in the facts, which showed no evidence that Secretary Clinton issued a "stand-down" order or personally denied security requests. Instead, they made overbearing accusations based on selective evidence they took out of context to try to damage her campaign for president. They revealed their true motivation when they dropped plans to hear from key witnesses like the secretary of defense and the head of the CIA.
The same was true of the Planned Parenthood hearing with Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, who began his inquisition with a bogus chart that was manipulated to attack the organization based on false pretenses.
Chairman Chaffetz later conceded that his investigation uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. Yet, Speaker Boehner deemed this record sufficient to establish a brand new Benghazi-like "select panel" to spend millions more on a full-time crusade to attack Planned Parenthood and women's access to birth control — all at taxpayer expense.
Most recently, Chairman Chaffetz tried to resuscitate a dormant investigation that had been spearheaded by his predecessor, Rep. Darrell Issa, by filing a resolution to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. He claims impeachment is needed because Mr. Koskinen "destroyed documents under subpoena" relating to baseless allegations that the IRS targeted conservative organizations for political reasons.
However, after an exhaustive investigation involving more than 100 interviews, the Justice Department concluded just last week that it "found no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt, or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution" and "no evidence that any official involved in the handling of tax-exempt applications or IRS leadership attempted to obstruct justice."
Republicans also ignored identical findings from J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), a conservative Republican who used to work on the same committee Rep. Chaffetz now chairs. In his own report in July, the Inspector General concluded: "No evidence was uncovered that any IRS employees had been directed to destroy or hide information from Congress, the DOJ or TIGTA."
In other words, after spending $20 million trying to find evidence to support their baseless accusations that the White House was pulling the strings at the IRS, Republicans came up empty again. Certainly frustrating for them, but hardly grounds for impeachment.
As columnist Charles Krauthammer has warned, "this is not going to end well." He added: "Republicans in the Congress have shown that they have no ability to conduct successful investigations of this administration. Everything they have touched has failed or backfired."
At the same time Speaker Boehner allowed Republicans to squander millions of taxpayer dollars diving down these investigative rabbit holes, they have been ignoring issues that could improve the lives of millions of American families.
Last week, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation issued a report finding that the number one health care priority among all Americans — including Republicans — is the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs. Yet, despite dozens of requests from me and others, the Oversight Committee has sent no letters seeking information from drug companies, has held no hearings on this critical problem and has shown no interest in supporting Democratic efforts to help our constituents.
When Rep. Ryan announced last week that he would seek his party's support for speaker, he made this observation: "Washington is falling short — including the House of Representatives. We are not solving the country's problems; we are only adding to them. But now, we have an opportunity to turn the page, to start with a clean slate."
Rep. Ryan should seize this opportunity to clean the slate by shutting down the wasteful Benghazi Committee, eliminating the indefensible Planned Parenthood panel and sending the ridiculous IRS impeachment resolution to the dustbin of history. These are all remnants of Speaker Boehner's legacy — not Speaker Ryan's.
Mr. Brooks warned Republicans to heed the "difficult facts of reality" and avoid exercises in "jaw-dropping incompetence."
Will Speaker Ryan listen?
Rep. Cummings is the top ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Committee on Benghazi. His email is Rep.Cummings@Mail.House.Gov.