Friday, December 21, 2007

A mixed ethics bag


Somedays, you get a clear picture that there's a Good Congress and a Bad Congress, and they are in a constant tug-of-war for control of legislators' souls -- sort of like the struggle between Barnes and Elias in the movie "Platoon."

Barnes (above, holding a gun to the head of the House ethics manual) popped his head up the other day, when the House ethics committee published its interpretation of the new ethics rules regarding convention parties -- in which they interpreted a section that bars lobbyists from sponsoring parties honoring members of Congress as only applying if members are mentioned by name. So it's just fine to attend lobbyist parties if they keep it vague -- honoring a state delegation, for instance, or a specific congressional committee.

Watchdog groups, naturally, are outraged. Me, I'll add in "bemused by the lengths the House will go to ensure they can attend parties."

But a couple of days later, Elias emerged from the jungle, running after the departing helicopter.

A "bipartisan" task force appointed to fix flaws in the House ethics system issued recommendations Wednesday without a hint of bipartisanship.

Only Democrats signed off on the plan. Republicans kept silent.

The proposal would change the way ethics complaints are initiated and handled. A six-person Office of Congressional Ethics, with no lawmakers as members, would be authorized to file complaints and start investigations of lawmakers and staff.

At least Republicans didn't actively block it. But the idea of a nonpartisan ethics panel is a good one, and long overdue.

Of course, any recommendations from that panel would still be sent to the ethics committee, which would have the final say over whether to pursue a complaint. And the panel lacks subpoena power. But it would be a little more sunlight into the process, and it would be a little more difficult for the committee to simply ignore a recommendation from such a panel.

So who will win, Barnes or Elias? In the movie, Elias loses the battle (Barnes kills him) but wins the war. A similar outcome seems possible here, where constant and successful efforts by House members to undermine the ethics rules effectively kill them, prompting such a harsh outcry from the public that even harsher rules end up getting installed. I'd prefer it not get quite so Oliver Stoneish, but if that's what happens, okay.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh come on. Since when is any so-called "non-partisan" outside Panel really non-partisan? The 911Commission was supposed to be non partisan, remember? But when we watched them at their hearings, it was clear they were anything but.

Generally such Committees get chosen by the two parties...EACH choosing people they believe will file complaints agains the other party.

What's really so sad is that our own Congress is unable to do it. There are no true statemen anymore who are able to look past their own political interests. Sad, but true.

BTW, welcome back!!

JP5

12/23/2007 6:20 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Oh come on. Since when is any so-called "non-partisan" outside Panel really non-partisan?

In this case, it doesn't matter if they're truly nonpartisan -- only that they not be the foxes in charge of the hen house.

What's really so sad is that our own Congress is unable to do it.

My point.

12/31/2007 5:07 PM  

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