Of all the ethically brain-dead comments I have heard from politicians over the years, Steny Hoyer (D-MD ) the House Majority Leader, might take the trophy. In the wake of an unintentional leak of House Ethics Committee records showing that nearly 30 Democrats were under investigation, Hoyer made the stunning statement that this shows the Democrats are living up to their promise to run the “most ethical” Congress in history.
If I can stop sputtering long enough to type, let me clarify for the Congressman. The most ethical Congress is not the one with the most ethics investigations. It is the one with the fewest members whose conduct warrant investigation for wrongdoing. If Hoyer’s reasoning wa accurate, then the safest U.S. city would be the one with the most murder investigations. The most honorable West Point class would be the one undergoing the most cheating inquiries. The most environmentally responsible corporation would be the one that was being investigated for the most alleged dumping infractions. In short, what the heck is Hoyer talking about? Is he that stupid, or does he think we are?
This Congress just had a former member, William Jeffferson, convicted of taking bribes after $90,000 was found in his freezer. This Congress has a Ways and Means Chairman, Rep. Charles Rangel, who admittedly has failed to report large amounts of money to the IRS (note that Ways and Means writes tax legislation), and that is just the latest of his ethics problems. This Congress is looking at a massive lobbying scandal of Abramoff proportions, with clients of the lobbying firm The PMA Group, staffed with former employees of defense appropriators, winning defense-bill earmarks for its clients to the tune of nearly $300 million, thanks to dubious relationships with seven of the 16 members of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee—including the five most senior Democrats on the panel and the top Republican.
There’s more of that unsavory stuff being looked at by the Ethics Committee, but lot of serious ethical misconduct isn’t thought of that way, because it doesn’t involve obvious corruption. This Congress became the only one in history to have a member, Joe Wilson (R-SC) insult (“You lie!”) the President of the United States in the middle of a speech. This Congress had another member, Allan Grayson, call a female advisor to the Fed Chief a “whore.” This Congress has a Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who has called the CIA liars and impugned the integrity of American citizens who have demonstrated against her policies or questioned her health care bill.
Can one of the most uncivil, disrespectful, undignified and partisan Congresses in history also be the “most ethical”? Only to someone who doesn’t know what ethical is…such as, I fear, Steny Hoyer.
Is it ethical for legislators to vote for revolutionary, expensive legislation that they haven’t read, an outrageous dereliction of responsibility and diligence that is not only rampant in this Congress, but shameless.? Is it ethical for legislators to stuff bills with budget-busting earmarks, and resist the efforts of members who attempt to make the process transparent and rare?
Cynics among you might argue that Hoyer could still be right, that this could be “the most ethical Congress” and still be a cesspool, given the competition. But to qualify as most ethical (as opposed to “least unethical”), there has to be some evidence of ethical conduct, and having ongoing investigations of a welter of unethical conduct by members isn’t it.
What would be evidence of an ethical Congress? Honesty and transparency with earmarks. Competency and responsiblity, meaning the production of bills that aren’t 2000 pages long (like the current House health care legislation), and no member voting for a bill he or she hasn’t read and understood. Accountability, requiring a member like Rep. Rangel to resign his Chairmanship before any ruling by the Ethics Committee, since the facts of his tax misconduct are very clear, and they alone disqualify him from his powerful Ways and Means post.
A truly ethical Congress wouldn’t have anything for the Ethics Committee to investigate.
No, Hoyer isn’t stupid. He is just permanently addled by too much exposure to Washington’s warped definition of ethical, which is defined in the Capitol as what you can get away with without being disgraced or punished. Until Congress develops higher standards than that, boasting about the “most ethical Congress” makes as much sense as arguing about who owns the most articulate cow.