WASHINGTON ― Top Democrats are urging the Trump administration to quickly appoint a special inspector general in charge of scrutinizing aid to major corporations under the $2 trillion economic rescue package Congress passed last week.
The massive coronavirus aid package, which includes direct payments to many Americans as well as loans to struggling small businesses, set up three mechanisms to oversee nearly $500 billion in loans the Treasury Department will be in charge of dispensing to major corporations: first, a bipartisan panel of members of Congress; second, a committee of inspectors general; and third, a special inspector general to be appointed by the president.
In a signing statement for the bill on Friday, however, Trump suggested he would not comply with some aspects of the role of the special inspector general for pandemic recovery (SIGPR) agreed on by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Democrats, whose votes were crucial to getting the bill to the president’s desk. The position was modeled after a special inspector general charged with identifying and alerting the public and Congress to waste, fraud and abuse in the 2008 Wall Street bailout.
Specifically, Trump said he would treat as optional a provision requiring the special inspector general to notify Congress if it is unreasonably denied information about loan decisions made by the Treasury Department.
“You, on behalf of the Administration, negotiated and agreed to the scope and terms of the SIGPR authority, both generally to Congress and to each of us personally,” Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio wrote in a letter addressed to Mnuchin on Tuesday.
“This oversight authority was critical for gaining support for your request for over $500 billion to aid struggling companies, states, municipalities, and other troubled entities,” the senators added in the letter. “Provision of these funds was conditioned on the SIGPR’s creation. As such, the SIGPR’s unfettered operation is not only a legal necessity, but also a condition you personally agreed to ― SIGPR’s structure is your structure, and it imperative that you defend it.”
In their letter, the Democrats urged Trump to nominate the special inspector general right away as the administration begins implementation of the law.
“We urge the President to nominate an independent Special Inspector General to this critical position without delay and continue the long-standing practice of consulting with the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency regarding this selection,” they wrote.
The nation’s inspectors general on Monday appointed Glenn Fine, the Defense Department’s acting inspector general, to lead the committee’s oversight efforts over the coronavirus aid package. In a statement issued by his office, Schumer said Fine has a “good reputation as a tough federal prosecutor,” calling on him to “exercise his full oversight authority to ensure that the Trump administration implements” the law as intended.
It’s unclear when a special inspector general will be named and confirmed by the Senate as required by law, however. The upper chamber is not expected to return from recess until April 20, per Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) downplayed Trump’s efforts to skirt oversight of the law during an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Friday, saying that the president’s signing statement is “not a surprise to anyone.”
“Congress will exercise its oversight and we will have our panel appointed by the House to, in real time, to make sure we know where those funds are being expended,” she said.
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