When Is A Joint Committee Disjointed?

Over the past two weeks, 18 scathing messages hammering the Obama administration on health care matters have been e-mailed to reporters and congressional staff from an address associated with the congressional Joint Economic Committee – a panel of Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate.

Photo by Andreas Praefcke via Wikimedia Commons

Isn’t the JEC a bipartisan, bicameral panel that alternates chairman among the parties and usually forgoes partisan attacks? What gives?

The JEC’s stated mission is to make a continuing study of matters relating to the U.S. economy. The committee, which has 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, holds hearings and advises Congress on economic policy.

As it turns out, however, the committee rarely – if ever – works as a cohesive unit, and disclosure about who is sponsoring messages can be fuzzy or nonexistent. The JEC has separate Republican and Democratic staffs that function autonomously — and that regularly rip apart reports and messages from the other party.

The e-mails from the past two weeks came from Chris Jacobs, a senior policy analyst who moved from the Republican Senate Policy Committee about two weeks ago. The e-mails don’t say that he works for the Republican staff, and they don’t have letterheads, but Jacobs says his intention was never to mislead. “I hadn’t given it much thought,” he said. “I presumed most people would know where I was coming from, working for Republicans previously.”

Here are a few subject line examples: “What Americans Don’t Know about Obamacare Is ALREADY Hurting Them,” and “Obamacare’s Pre-Existing Contradictions,” and “The REAL Story Behind Obamacare’s Failed Premium Promise.” And one from today: “Jon Stewart Was Right: You WILL Lose Your Health Coverage Under Obamacare.”

“It’s a little misleading,” said Brenda Arredondo, spokeswoman for JEC’s Democratic staff. “We’re going to contact the Republican staff about making it clear in the future.” She later added that the Democrats are “working together with the Republican staff to make sure our emails are clearer.”

The Democratic side of the committee this year started using a standard letterhead on its own messages to indicate that they are coming from the Democratic staff, “after it was brought to our attention” that the origin might be ambiguous, she said.

The JEC doesn’t legislate, and has no jurisdictional authority, and often is grouped with another bipartisan, bicameral committee, the Joint Committee on Taxation. But some observers say the JEC responds in a more partisan manner like other committees on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and Democrats are pushing contradictory messages. Tom Miller, who worked on the Republican staff of the JEC seven years ago, says that the place is no “monastery, where everybody reaches consensus and is thinking from the same economic page.”

Most press releases by committees, he said, “get down and dirty. The other side will fire out stuff. People put out objective analyses which are tilted. So, it’s not unusual. If this was the Joint Committee on Taxation, a technical body, it would raise more eyebrows.”