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Republican Majority Must Restore Ethics Rules

April 27, 2005

Since the beginning of the year the House has been conducting its business without an organized Ethics Committee in place to investigate possible unethical behavior by members of Congress.  Republicans have tried to blame Democrats on the Ethics Committee for this standstill.  But, the fact is, they have nobody to blame but themselves. 

            At the beginning of this year, the Republican leadership went ahead and changed the way the Ethics Committee does its business.  In the past, whenever ethics changes were being considered, they were addressed in a bipartisan fashion----with both Democrats and Republicans at the table.  That's the only way ethics reform can honestly be addressed.

            The Republican leadership ignored that protocol and strong armed enough of its members into passing new and weakened ethics rules. 

            The American people need to understand that these new rules will allow either party----Democrat or Republican----to protect its own members.  Under the new Republican rules, if a majority of the committee cannot determine whether or not an investigation should proceed after 45 days of receiving a complaint, the complaint would simply be dropped.  No action would take place.  Since the Ethics Committee is made up of five members from each party, either side could prevent an ethics investigation from moving forward against one of its members. 

That's not the way the Ethics Committee is supposed to work.  Under the old bipartisan rules, if the Committee could not come to agreement on how to proceed after 45-days, an investigative subcommittee was created.

The weakening of the ethics rules by House Republicans did not fool editorial writers----both liberal and conservative--- who follow House proceedings closely.  The conservative Chicago Tribune opined---"How do House Republicans respond to ethical lapses?  By trying to bury them."  The Hartford Courant concluded: "The committee has been careening toward ethical oblivion in recent years, as the majority Republicans have relaxed the standards, eased up on investigations and created trapdoors through which alleged transgressors could escape." 

            The Republican leadership didn't stop at just weakening the ethics rules.  The leadership also purged three Republican members of the Ethics Committee earlier this year----three members who weren't in the pockets of the leadership.  After losing his chairmanship of the Ethics Committee----Republican Congressman Hefley told the Washington Post that there's---and I'm quoting---"a bad perception out there that there was a purge in the committee and that people were put in that would protect our side of the aisle better than I did."  He continues----"Nobody should be there to protect anybody.  They should be there to protect the integrity of the institution."

            Congressional Republicans should really listen to their former Ethics Chairman.  The integrity of the House is much more important than any one member. 

            These actions by the Republican majority really make you wonder why the changes are necessary now.    It seems clear to me that the Republican leadership went to all this trouble to protect one of its leaders.  Last month, the Wall Street Journal, which has a conservative editorial page, charged that there is an "odor," an "unsavory whiff" at the very highest reaches of this House of Representatives.  Every single day, it seems, more revelations come out about questionable actions by a member of the Republican leadership.  These daily revelations should concern every member of this institution.

            My Democratic colleagues and I realize the integrity of the House is at stake.  We cannot allow weakened ethics rules to move forward to protect anyone.  It's critical that the Ethics Committee be allowed to do it's job, and that's simply impossible under the new rules. 

As the Majority Leader Tom DeLay said back in November of 1995, and I'm quoting, "The time has come that the American people know exactly what their representatives are doing here in Washington...Are they feeding at the public trough, taking lobbyist paid vacations, getting wined and dined by special interest groups?  Or are they working hard to represent their constituents?  The people, the American people, have a right to know."  That was the Majority Leader DeLay ten years ago.

The Majority Leader was right.  The American people deserve answers, and unfortunately, they won't get those answers under the weakened ethics rules.  That's why Democrats are fighting so hard to have the old rules restored.  If the Majority Leader really believes his comments from ten years ago, I would think he'd join us in our fight.