Attempting to dismiss Democratic criticism of the Republican-proposed House-Senate investigation into failures in the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, a September 19 Wall Street Journal editorial (subscription required) claimed that committee Democrats -- who would be outnumbered by Republicans -- would "have access to the same investigative facts and witnesses" as Republicans. This claim is highly misleading, however, as only Republicans would have subpoena power.
The Washington Post reported on September 8 that "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the new commission 'is not truly bipartisan, will not be made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, cannot write legislation and will not have bipartisan subpoena power.' " The Journal's claim that Democrats would "have the same access" to witnesses as Republicans ignores the fact that Democrats on the committee would not have subpoena power and would, therefore, have access to only those witnesses and documents sought by Republicans.
The text of the legislation calling for the commission, introduced in the House of Representatives, states that "[t]he select committee shall be composed of 20 members appointed by the Speaker, of whom 9 shall be appointed after consultation with the Minority Leader." The bill further states that subpoena power for the commission will be governed by the Rules of the House of Representatives, which state that subpoenas may be issued "only when authorized by the committee or subcommittee, a majority being present," and "[t]he power to authorize and issue subpoenas ... may be delegated to the chairman of the committee under such rules and under such limitations as the committee may prescribe. Authorized subpoenas shall be signed by the chairman of the committee or by a member designated by the committee." The House resolution was approved on September 15; the bill has not yet passed through the Senate.