Tales from the Trail

Lights, action, cameras, U.S. congressional hearings!!!

May 11, 2010

TV cameras zoomed in on corporate executives squirming, a top federal regulator promising answers and U.S. lawmakers venting anger.

All of this and more unfolded during a series of nationally broadcast dramas on Tuesday as two congressional panels held hearings on the spreading BP oil spill, and a third probed last week’s mysterious collapse on Wall Street.

Such high-profile investigative proceedings have been a regular feature on Capitol Hill for years.

They’ve included examining: the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War; the 1912 sinking of the Titanic; the start of The Great Depression and organized crime in the early 1950s.

“The quicker a congressional committee can get on the front pages of newspapers the happier and more content they are,” said Stephen Hess, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank.

“Sure, they want to show concern and even anger. But they also want to take a look at possible legislative and corrective action,” Hess added.

This is particularly true during an election year, like this one. Democrats face angry voters and are scrambling to keep control of the House and Senate in the November election.

“They would have held these hearings regardless who was in control of Congress,” Hess said. But he added, “If this wasn’t an election year, perhaps they would have waited at least a few more days.”

The House of Representatives Subcommittee on Capital Markets waited less than a week to gavel into session a hearing on last Thursday’s shocking collapse on Wall Street.

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro said it would take time to pinpoint the cause but said she would get there.

“The markets failed many investors on May 6, and I am committed to finding effective solutions,” Schapiro said.

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On the other side of the Capitol, executives from BP and other companies involved in the deadly Gulf of Mexico offshore oil well blowout listened to senators’ accusations.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, told reporters afterward that plenty of questions remain unanswered and more hearings are needed.

“We are just now beginning the process of better understanding the tragedy in the Gulf,” Murkowski said.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed (BP America Inc. President and Chairman Lamar McKay (R) with aides during break in Senate hearing, May 11, 2010)

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