Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

TOP STORY >>Influence grows for Snyder in Congress

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The war in Iraq has entered its fifth year with no end in sight and scant evidence that the Iraqi government can soon stand up its own military and police forces—likely prerequisites to bringing home U.S. troops.

Against that backdrop, Second District Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, takes over July 1 as chairman of the important House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.

Under Republican control, the Tom DeLay-led Congress repealed authority for oversight and investigation in 1994, but the Democrats brought it back in January.

Since the Bush presidency, “Congressional oversight has been abysmal, particularly regarding procurement and the Pentagon,” Snyder said. The committee’s authority is breathtakingly broad, but the one area Snyder knows his committee will investigate is why so little progress has been made training the Iraqi Army and police for a swift and effective turnover, Snyder said Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve been encouraged several times that (those forces) were ready,” said Snyder, “with young Iraqis dressed in uniform. It never worked out.”

Snyder replaces Rep. Marty Meehan of Massachusetts. Meehan has resigned his position in Congress to serve as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

Snyder, one of the 126 members of Congress to vote against the joint resolution to invade Iraq in 2003, served in Vietnam as a Marine and has long been a staunch advocate for the men and women in the military. He will step down as chairman of the House Armed Services Personnel committee to take the new position. Snyder, who served on the oversight committee, said he was encouraged in recent weeks to take the chairmanship by House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo.

The committee’s mandate is so broad—it can hold hearings or investigate virtually anything related to the Defense Department, national security, homeland security, healthcare for soldiers, recruiting and retention, nuclear non-proliferation to name a few areas—that Snyder is still canvassing fellow committee members.

“We’re beginning with a clean slate July 1,” he said. “I’m in the process of throwing out a big net. Where do we go from here? I have a list of ideas.”

“We have a hearing coming up on Walter Reed (Army Medical Center), health care for personnel and procurement and retention,” he said.

Although the committee has limited time and staff, its staff won’t be much involved in the joint budget conference committees in September and October. In addition to holding hearings and investigating, the committee can recommend changes and legislation to the House Armed Services Committee.

Asked if his experiences as a Marine in Viet-nam would inform his chairmanship, Snyder said, “We take our backgrounds with us.”

He said his knowledge of Little Rock Air Force Base and the National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade and his experience as a doctor and attorney all would play a part in considerations.

“That’s big,” said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., of Snyder’s new chairmanship. “It’s a real honor for Vic.” Pryor said it showed Snyder’s colleague’s respect for him and trust.

“Because of his military background—he was a marine, served his country on active duty and never shied away—he’s always been a strong advocate (for service members), Pryor said.

“In many ways, he’s the real anti-politician. He doesn’t promote himself, doesn’t have to be the center of attention and gets to work and gets it done,” Pryor added.

“He’s a thoughtful and independent thinker with strong convictions. That’s why he gets about 68 percent of the vote (at election time). People respect that.”

“His constituents in Arkansas and all Americans are well-served by having an individual with Vic’s integrity and expertise in the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark. “Congressman Snyder brings demonstrated leadership and experience to his new role.”