Opinion: The DC swamp plays by its own set of rules

(AP)

NOTE: This is an updated version of a column originally posted earlier this morning:

Well, that didn’t take long.

As their first official action in launching the Age of Trump, the House Republican caucus voted Monday night to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. They voted in favor of taking an independent oversight agency with real power to hold members of Congress accountable and turn it into a toothless, voiceless hulk of its former self.

Put another way, the very politicians who sold themselves to angry voters as reformers instead tried to make it easier to sell themselves to lobbyists without detection or punishment. And while they were forced to back away from the plan Tuesday by a sudden public backlash — even Donald Trump questioned the timing of the move, but not its intent — the effort tells us a lot about where things are probably headed.

First, though, let’s review the history of the OCE, because it’s important:

A decade ago, Congress faced a serious crisis. Lobbyists such as Jack Abramoff were running amok, spreading campaign cash, lucrative gifts and the promise of well-paying jobs to members of Congress and their staffs. The House Ethics Committee, which was supposed to police such behavior, had instead become the place where all investigations and allegations were buried. The result was a congressional culture in which no real rules applied.

After a series of federal prosecutions on bribery and other crimes, however, Congress was forced to act. It created the OCE and placed it under the control of an independent, eight-member board of directors, all of whom are private citizens, with four members appointed by each political party. It was empowered to investigate all allegations of congressional misbehavior, and if it found cause for action, it was authorized to refer those cases to the House Ethics Committee.

Now look at the changes that House Republicans tried to impose:

  • If the OCE board finds reason to believe that members of Congress broke federal law, they can refer those findings to federal prosecutors. In its vote Monday night, House Republicans tried to bar the agency from making such criminal referrals.
  • Under current rules, the OCE is independent. It has no power to punish House members or staff, and no subpoena power, but it at least has free rein to conduct investigations and make recommendations. The House GOP wanted to strip the agency even of that freedom.
  • Under current rules, the OCE can make its investigative reports public.¹ That provision is essential, because it makes it harder for the House Ethics Committee to sweep embarrassing allegations under the rug, as it has a history of doing. House Republicans voted to seal those reports from public view, and to bar the OCE board from making any public statement or even employing a spokesperson.
  • The OCE can accept and investigate complaints filed anonymously, dismissing those that it finds unsubstantiated. Under the rules change endorsed by House Republicans, anonymous allegations could not be investigated regardless of how much merit they have.

Such changes had never been publicly proposed or debated and came as a complete surprise. Nonetheless, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia defended them as an improvement, claiming that it “builds upon and strengthens the existing Office of Congressional Ethics.”

That was a lie, and an insult to the intelligence of American voters. Politicians don’t strengthen ethics laws in secret, without warning or public debate. They act that way only when they’re ashamed of what they’re doing, and this time they got caught.

—————————-

¹For example, when then-U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal of Georgia resigned his seat in 2010 one step ahead of congressional ethics investigators, the OCE board voted unanimously to release its report documenting “substantial reason to believe” that Deal had broken multiple House ethics rules.

Reader Comments 0

1332 comments
JayBook
JayBook moderator

USMC, down below you question whether I wrote a similar column berating the Congressional Black Caucus for its 2010 attempt to gut the OCE, and requested a link to such a piece if it existed.

I did indeed publish such a piece on June 2, 2010, under the headline "Black Caucus launches effort to repeal major ethics reform." The link is no longer active, unfortunately.

In the piece I wrote:

"It’s no surprise that members of Congress don’t like the OCE. Unlike the House ethics committee, the OCE truly is independent, and a key part of that independence is its authority to release reports of its investigation to the public. If that power is taken away and the ethics committee, made up of fellow congressmen, is given the authority to squelch those reports, an important check on congressional ethics will disappear.

Voting now to weaken the OCE would be a terrible confirmation of the public’s current disdain for Congress. It would also make it much more difficult for congressional Democrats to claim that Congress operates any differently now than it did under Republican rule, when the ethics investigation process broke down completely."


I trust that resolves any fear you might have about hypocrisy on this subject.

RantNRave
RantNRave

CONS,


THIS YEAR IS A....... 


TO PUT UP OR SHUT UP YEAR!


You break it you own it.

Bruno2
Bruno2

 Eye: "after the Pats win the Super Bowl and Brady gives Goodell the middle finger"

Just my sixth sense talking again, but I have a funny feeling the Pats will stumble on the way to the Superbowl victory.  If KC doesn't get them, Dallas or Green Bay might.

skydog12
skydog12

@Bruno2


Your sixth sense forgot about the Falcons. GB or Detroit will get Dallas. Falcs can beat Seattle and get home field. 

KC could get Pats.

Falcs can handle KC, Pats...not so much.

RantNRave
RantNRave

Why would you cons repeal


Obamacare if you don't have


a replacement??


Ryan says we have PLENTY


of ideas.


.....IDEAS WON'T HELP YOU CONS


IF YOU HAVE CANCER!


.....IDEAS WON'T HELP YOU CONS


KEEP YOUR CHILDREN ON YOUR


HEALTH CARE PLAN.


.....IDEAS WON'T HELP YOU CONS


IF YOU HAVE A PRE-EXISTING CONDITION.



They are gonna pull the rug


right from under you idiots.


You'll be on your own.


BTW


Blaming Obama won't save


your lives if you get TERMINALLY ILL.





Peachs
Peachs

Listened to Jack Abramoff, acting like he was indignant about the failed run at gutting the ethics yesterday. He also advises us, all lobbyist aren't bad.  This is the repeated head beating that four years of Trump is going to bring.  These guys that aren't locked up, like Ralph Reed will show up character references for the rest of us.

_GodlessHeathen_
_GodlessHeathen_

How much should last year's employment figures be influenced by minimum wage hikes that take effect in 2017?


Or is the argument that because certain states have low unemployment levels that they can afford to kill jobs by raising the minimum wage?

honested
honested

@_GodlessHeathen_ 

Well that rules out Georgia because people outside Metro Atlanta are used to being paid nothing.

TBS
TBS

Not sure however the minimum wage in Mass was already higher than the federal mandated rate?

Can you tell us how much it impacted the rate during that time?

Or would you like to go with the anecdotal examples put forth by Reb?

My point .. posting some anecdotal example to extrapolate all the upcoming negative impact on employment was weak and certainly didn't hold much water

_GodlessHeathen_
_GodlessHeathen_

@TBS I would agree but chiming in about last year's UE rate doesn't make much of an argument about this year's MW rate effect either.

TBS
TBS

We shall see what transpires

I'm sure there will be some negative impact

I will also say that the last increase didn't exactly spell out doom and gloom on a macro level for employment in Mass.

Increases in minimum wage rates over the years whether it be on the federal or state level haven't been the ultimate panacea some on the left portray or the end all of end alls of job killers as some on the right seem to portray

Paul42
Paul42

My guess?

Republicans will still move for a straight PPACA repeal with nothing to replace it.  Trump will oppose.  Freeeeedom Caucus Republicans will oppose option to pass repeal effective a few years in the future (gotta remember 2018 and 2020 will be here before they know it) and will battle House leadership over this issue.

Republicans  may go along with Trump that, yes, we really do need to keep guaranteed insurability, subsidy support, etc. but they won't have a clue how to make it happen without billions of dollars in funding.  They'll talk endlessly about 'market forces' and 'health savings accounts' and none of it will prove viable.

Broad swaths of working-class voters in key states who hate Obamacare but don't realize that's exactly why they have health insurance will be outraged if Republicans take it away.  

Republicans will finally, after six years and what, 50 or 75 votes to repeal, FINALLY offer fixes to problems with PPACA and will abandon the 'repeal' nonsense, as they realize how complex it is and how the political consequences of repeal will be horrendous.  Then they'll try to rename PPACA to some conservative name and claim how they brought healthcare to millions.

Or, they'll press ahead with repeal, have a major fight with Pres Trump and will give Democrats the gift that keeps on giving in 2018 and 2020 and beyond.  (Do these conservative House members realize that The Donald is more popular, now, in their districts than they are?).

honested
honested

@Paul42 

"market forces", the source of additional onerous costs that should not be present in the calculations for providing health care finance.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@Paul42 The most sensible solution to health care funding is to cull the 5% of our population who consume 50% of all the health care dollars spent out of the insurance pool, and pay for their health care directly through tax dollars (socialized medicine).  Then, the rest of us can purchase a catastrophic policy at reasonable rates.

honested
honested

@Bruno2 @Paul42 

Cull the 5%?

Why not cull all for-profit health insurance and automatically cut costs 20-25%?

Paul42
Paul42

@Bruno2
There have been numerous stories of taxpayer-supported hospitals who engage that population with education and special attention who have driven costs way, way down.  

But, I'd think that 5% number includes the patients noted above, as well as patients within the last six months of their lifes.  Most of that group has socialized medicine that's about as socialized as we're going to get (not counting the military, of course):  Medicare.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@honested @Bruno2 @Paul42 As Doom used to point out, administering health care at the federal level isn't cost-free.  In addition, there are many downsides to making your entire system socialized in terms of quality of delivery of the services.

Paul42
Paul42

@Bruno2

I believe Doom was the only one (aside from a few other conservatives) who ever asserted that some thought it was 'free.'

Most of the retorts against him were of the TANSTAAFL type.

(There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, so decide who pays and how)

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Paul42

FINALLY offer fixes to problems with PPACA 

Just a pet peeve, but they'll never call it the "PPACA". In fact, sadly, nobody does. I say that's sad because everyone forgets the "Patient Protection" component of the legislation, which is the part that costs money.

Everyone seems to think it was just about affordability.

Oh well, maybe next decade we'll figure this out.

honested
honested

@USMC2841 @Paul42 @Bruno2 

Nobody is assuming it is 'free', real costs are real costs.....there is just no place for invented 'profits' (artificial increases in costs).

USMC2841
USMC2841

@honested @USMC2841 @Paul42 @Bruno2 The President promises that not only is it going to be free but Americans will save $2500.  Passing laws with lies has consequences.  Traditional media referenced Bush's "read my lips" statement over and over.  In the new media world.  Social media will hold both sides accountable.  Welcome to the 21st century.

Bruno2
Bruno2

 Donnie Pinko: "Ahh, the mandate thing again"

Tell you what, Donnie, I'll gladly stand with you in criticism of anyone who claims a "popular mandate", since no President ever had one considering that 19-23% of the total population ultimately chooses who will be in charge.  Now, as far as a "technical mandate", Trump has just as much of a mandate as FDR, Nixon, Obama or even Gerald Ford did since he assumed office legally.

Paul42
Paul42

@Bruno2

The only way that works is if one defines 'mandate' as 'the legal authority to act.'

If it is defined as 'overwhelming popular support,' with a deficit of nearly 3 million popular votes (compared, say, to Obama's margins of 5 million and 10 million) and EC totals in about the bottom third of recent elections, it doesn't work.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@Paul42 @Bruno2 I made that distinction above, with the additional consideration of the fact that a "majority of voters" still represents only a small fraction of our total population.  Since the President presides over the total population and not just those who voted for him, I believe that is a more accurate measurement.  The reality is that our most "popular" Presidents, i.e. FDR, Nixon and Reagan, still only had 22-23% of the total population who voted for them.

Paul42
Paul42

@Bruno2

The comparison of voters to population is regularly made to question 'mandate' or 'validity.'  It's rather like a college football team:  lots of players, only a small portion ever play.

But if you add in presidential approval ratings at comparable term points (say, Obama vs GW Bush) the picture changes.  People who don't vote do weigh in.  

Bruno2
Bruno2

@Paul42 @Bruno2 My prediction: Trump will leave office as the most popular President evah!!  ; > }

Paul42
Paul42

@Bruno2

Doubtful.  Mostly, I think, because no one, even his supporters (or Trump) has a clue what his rhetoric put into legislation or international relations will look like.  

We have clues, and there's plenty for all sides to object to.

Peachs
Peachs

There will be a congressional hearing, where Trump is called to prove he is not dead, after he has pulled a Nixon depression on us. 

honested
honested

Wouldn't it be great if chump fooled everybody and moved to enact Federal Central Payer on January 21!!


An overnight 20% savings on all health care.

honested
honested

@Philo_Farnsworth 

Rationing began long ago.

The deplorables would just rather let those who 'profit' from the rationing be in control of it.

Paul42
Paul42

@Philo_Farnsworth

Ah, yes, Philo, will Republicans FINALLY get the 'Death Panels' Palin's talked about and conservatives never forgot?

//sarc//

Cupofjoe
Cupofjoe

MY party? 

Excuse me?   "No excuse me" needed you seem to be in the "glass house throwing stones" party-  take a minute and tell us about yourself.  What are your ideals? What is your favorite societal structure?  

Donnie_Pinko
Donnie_Pinko

@Cupofjoe 

I think I've been pretty clear. I favor a socialist form of government - not a so-called 'mixed' model of capitalism and socialism, which is no mixture at all, but a socialist form. 

It just so happens that we are now in the centenary of the first and only such government to appear.