Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Congress Has Lost America's Trust ; Ethics Issues, Lack of Deciplinary Action Don't Pass Smell Test

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Congress Has Lost America's Trust ; Ethics Issues, Lack of Deciplinary Action Don't Pass Smell Test

Article excerpt

With elections over, Congress faces a full plate of tough issues when it reconvenes. There will be a lot of talk about fiscal matters, "grand bargains," and sorting party caucuses. But there's one vitally important question we're certain to hear nothing about. That is Congress's own behavior.

After what may be the most widely panned session in modern congressional history, Capitol Hill ought to use every means possible to rebuild Americans' trust. Yet the matter over which it has the most control - striving to ensure the ethical behavior of its members - seems to be on no one's agenda.

Earlier this year, The Washington Post detailed a stunning array of questionable practices.

Its reporters found that 130 members and their families had traded stock in companies registered to lobby before their committees - and that over 5,000 of those trades occurred as the bills those companies were interested in came before Congress.

In some cases, the ethics were even dicier. One lawmaker put her name on legislation extending the life span of federal grazing permits - which her husband used for feeding his cattle.

All told, the Post found, 73 members of Congress "sponsored or co-sponsored legislation in recent years that could benefit businesses or industries in which either they or their family members are involved or invested."

What might seem dubious to you or me doesn't even raise an eyebrow in Congress, however.

Legislators argue that because they need to represent the interests of their constituents, and their own interests often overlap with their constituents', that means leaving them free to enact bills and direct federal money that just happens to boost their financial prospects.

The ethics committees seem largely to agree.

Since the scandals that brought down speakers Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich in the 1990s and then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in 2004, committee members in both the House and the Senate have been reluctant to police their colleagues.

In the past couple of years, only two House members have been disciplined for ethical breaches. The Senate committee has sent out four "letters of admonishment. …

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