Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Friday that she sent a letter to a fellow Republican lawmaker, asking him to hold congressional hearings on the Sago mine disaster that killed 12 miners in Upshur County this week.Capito told Rotary Club members at the University of Charleston that she did not sign an earlier letter from Rep. Nick J. Rahall and Alan Mollohan, both D-W.Va., asking for hearings because their letter was “too political.”Both letters went to Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee. Boehner said he would not schedule any hearings, because he didn’t want to interfere with the investigation by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.Steve Forde, spokesman for Boehner’s committee, said Friday: “The committee wants to ensure two things. First, that any hearing does not run the risk of slowing down any investigation. That would be a disservice to people seeking answers. Second, they don’t want to be too hasty in calling a hearing before some facts are established.”
Capito’s letter asked for an investigation focusing on three things, including “the cause of the explosion and ways to prevent similar incidents, whether the federal government adequately enforced safety regulations ... and the response of both government agencies and the mining company in the aftermath of the explosion.”The letter stated: “In the wake of the Sago disaster, it is incumbent upon Congress to consider how we can better prevent future mining accidents. ... The circumstances surrounding this tragedy cry out for congressional oversight.”The letter from Rahall and Mollohan criticized the Bush administration for withdrawing “17 standards to improve safety and health for miners” and cutting MSHA’s budget.Also Friday, Capito said changes in Social Security are unlikely to be a major issue in Congress this year.“Social Security is a hot topic,” Capito said. “A lot of people have major questions about having [part of their funds] invested privately. This is something that is not sitting well with people in West Virginia and around the nation.“But I think Social Security will take a back seat to other issues this year. But in the future, we have to do something,” she said.She identified several issues she believes Congress will debate after it reconvenes on Jan. 31, including the affordability of health care.The war in Iraq will remain a central issue. “The Iraqi people have proven they believe in democracy,” Capito said. “But problems are still very difficult in the security area.”Capito believes U.S. troop levels will move downward this year.“But I believe in [creating] no certain timeline,” she said. “It makes no sense from a military, political or international viewpoint.”She also said the situation throughout the Middle East is “deeply troubling,” including recent developments in Iran and Syria.
When she visited Iraq several months ago, Capito said people in Kuwait told her there was “very little” possibility of any improvement “until the Israel-PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] conflict is settled.”Drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Capito said, “is not on the radar screen right now. We have to move beyond that. It is not the will of the people or Congress.”Capito also said she is troubled by the Jack Abramoff scandal. Abramoff, a lobbyist, pleaded guilty to three federal charges Tuesday. He gave many contributions to Republican lawmakers; his clients gave to lawmakers of both parties.“It besmirches all of government,” Capito said. “But I do not know, and have not met, Jack Abramoff.”To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.