Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Test of Ethics for Congress

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Test of Ethics for Congress

Article excerpt

Twice in the past two weeks, a majority of US House Members - Democrats and Republicans alike - have balked at efforts to hold a vote on a critical proposal to create a bipartisan panel of nonlawmakers to monitor enforcement of House ethics rules.

As members consider taking it up again this week, we know they are worried about what might happen if the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is created. But they should be more worried about what might happen if it isn't.

For decades, Congress has used a peer review system to police itself. Each chamber of Congress has an ethics committee, and that panel is charged with monitoring and enforcing the rules. But in a political environment, where favors and loyalties are traded for power and legislative accomplishments, self-policing simply does not work. House Members, in particular, essentially refuse to do it.

Consider that in the past five years, which have seen some of the worst congressional scandals in recent history - two House Members jailed on bribery charges, two under indictment for corruption, at least two under FBI investigation, plus former lobbyist Jack Abramoff - the House Ethics Committee has remained silent and virtually inactive.

When the Democrats took control of the House in 2006, propelled in part by that same wave of scandal that entrapped mostly Republicans, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) of California pledged to lead a more ethical House. To her credit, members passed a major ethics bill last year that contained some of the most sweeping reforms since Watergate.

But what it did not do is address enforcement of the rules. Rep. Michael Capuano (D) of Massachusetts has proposed creating the OCE, an independent and impartial panel of six outside experts chosen by House members of both parties to investigate allegations of wrongdoing and monitor compliance of House rules. …

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