Senate Democrats announced plans yesterday for wide-ranging hearings to examine Bush administration policies and conduct, saying the Republicans who control both houses of Congress...

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WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats announced plans yesterday for wide-ranging hearings to examine Bush administration policies and conduct, saying the Republicans who control both houses of Congress have abdicated responsibility for oversight of the GOP administration.

“The congressional watchdog remains fast asleep, and we intend to wake him up,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who announced the party’s plan at a Capitol Hill news conference.

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Dorgan, chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said the hearings will begin in January. The subjects of the first couple of sessions will be announced later this month.

Republicans will be invited, and the Democrats will not conduct hearings on a particular subject if a GOP-controlled committee decides to do so, said Dorgan and incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who joined Dorgan by satellite from Las Vegas.

Dorgan and Reid listed a number of possible targets for hearings, including alleged contract abuses in Iraq, the administration’s use of prewar intelligence, misleading cost estimates for the Medicare drug benefit, cost of the administration’s plan for private Social Security accounts, implementation of the “No Child Left Behind” education bill and administration policies on global warming.

Unlike regular Senate committees, the Democrats will have no subpoena powers to compel the testimony of witnesses or release of documents. But Dorgan said he expected there are “plenty of whistleblowers” who will be eager for a forum, and Reid noted that Senate committees rarely have to resort to subpoenas.

The hearings are part of a broader effort by Senate Democrats to strengthen their message and create new mechanisms for getting it out after their loss of four seats in the November elections. They have announced a beefed-up communications operations, including a “war room” for rapid response to the administration and to the Senate Republican majority.

Dorgan denied that Democrats were pursuing a partisan agenda in scheduling the hearings, although it was clear they were trying to raise the profile of their case against the Republicans on a variety of sensitive political issues.

“This is not about ‘gotcha’ politics. … This is about oversight,” Dorgan said. “If the majority party won’t do it, we will.” There was no immediate response from GOP leaders.

Reid said he thought the Foreign Relations Committee was doing a “pretty good job” on oversight, and he expected the newly expanded Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee would perform well.

But with Republicans in control of the executive and legislative branches of government, most other panels have virtually given up on investigations and oversight, Dorgan and Reid said.