Why has the U. S. House of Representatives' very busy Committee on Oversight and Government Reform so far spent two days holding hearings on a Major League Baseball scandal? Why did Congress bless the decision of Commissioner Bud Selig to hire former U. S. Senator George Mitchell to prepare a report ("The Illegal Use of Steroids in Major League Baseball") of over 400 pages at a cost estimated at as much as $20 million? It's not easy to come up with a convincing and satisfactory answer.
The Committee, established way back in 1816, is the main investigative committee in the House. It's charged with investigating any federal program and any matter with federal policy implications. As one of the most influential and powerful committees in the House, its chairman, currently Democrat Henry Waxman from California, is the only committee chairman in the House who has the authority to issue subpoenas without a Committee vote.
The Committee has 5 sub-committees: Domestic Policy; Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia; Government Management, Organization, and Procurement; Information Policy, Census, and National Archives; and National Security and Foreign Affairs. None of them seem to cover baseball, sports in general or even entertainment. It's not obvious to me which sub-committee would have jurisdiction. Perhaps it's Domestic Policy. In recent years the Committee has held hearings on such other issues as Administration contracts entered into for reconstruction and development in Iraq involving tens of billions; allegations of fraud, waste and abuse at the new U. S., Embassy in Iraq; and the financial risks of building new coal-fired power plants without emissions controls for greenhouse gases.
The answers to the two questions in the first paragraph don't seem at all compelling to me, but one apparent answer is because baseball is considered the "national sport", baseball is a multi-billion dollar industry, there are tens of millions of serious baseball fans in the country interested in the scandal; and, finally, a great many politicians are not good at setting legititmate priorities. The second answer, as I understand it, relates directly to national anti-trust legislation.
Any business that operates across state borders and therefore participates in interstate commerce, like baseball, is subject to antitrust legislation covered in the historically important Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 and the Clayton Anti-Trust Act of 1914. For reasons associated with the above answer, baseball has been exempt from the anti-trust laws since 1922, when the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in its favor in the case of a Baltimore baseball club and National Baseball Clubs, representing the owners of all the professional baseball teams at the time. By virtue of the exemption, plus decades of reluctance by various courts to overrule, baseball is the only sport or other business that has an exemption to the extent that it does.
Nevertheless, I submit that the Committee can find much better things to do with the taxpayers' representatives and money. One more logical reform they could spend time on and implement quickly would be to reduce the number of members on the Committee, currently totaling 41 (23 Democrats and 18 Republicans). How about prioritizing a smaller number of more important investigative issues and dealing with these with,
for example, a Committee limited to the 20 most experienced and productive members and a budget 50% smaller?