By Stanford Matthews
Blog @ MoreWhat.com
It is what lawyers do. While there is good reason to be specific and clear and dot the i's and cross the t's, it is not uncommon for lawyers, especially those engaged in politics, to muddy the water or in some way make it very difficult for the public to see what has been or will be done. This week's Congressional attention to ethics reform legislation is no exception.
S.1 also known as the ' Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 ' is a disappointing attempt by Congress to implement ethics reform. While the GOP lost the majority in November 2006 largely due to public dissatisfaction with matters including ethics, the Democratic majority since November has done little to change the reputation of Congress. The political bickering between the two major political parties has also not served the public interest. Comments by leadership from both parties on this recent legislation are provided here as an indication of both parties reluctance to effectively deal with ethics as has been the case for years.
First the majority party's take on S.1:
For Immediate Release
Pelosi: ‘With Passage of Lobby Reform, We Draw Back the Curtains, Throw Up the Windows, and Let the Sunshine In’
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic leaders held a new conference this afternoon on the Honest Leadership, Open Government Act of 2007, which passed the House floor today by an overwhelming vote of 411 to 8. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
“Thank you very much, Chairman Emanuel, for your great leadership on this issue of lobbying reform. I want to commend you, and I want to commend another member of our leadership, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, for his leadership as well.
“Justice Louis Brandeis observed more than 70 years ago, ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
“Today, with passage of the Honest Leadership, Open Government Act, we draw back the curtains, throw up the windows, and let the sunshine in.
This is another poorly calculated attempt to convince the public that something has been done about ethics when that is not the case.
Steny Hoyer essentially echoes Speaker Pelosi's marketing message on ethics:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 31, 2007
Stacey Farnen Bernards
(202) 225 - 3130
Hoyer Statement on Lobbying Reform Bill
WASHINGTON, DC - House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor this morning in support of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 411-8. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Mr. Speaker, today is a proud day for this body, and a dramatic example of how the Congress that was elected last November pledging to clean up the 'culture of corruption' is making good on its promise.
"Last January, on the first day of this new Congress, we enacted sweeping ethics rule changes. And today, with this 'Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007,' we have a simple, straightforward purpose: to continue to restore public confidence in the legislative process.
The two statements above are nothing more than the new majority trying to take credit for ethics reform and convince the public the Democratic party is the answer for all their concerns And the GOP statement below offers the same load of fertilizer from their purely political statement.
Boehner Criticizes Majority Leadership for Leaving Earmark Reforms & Stronger Lobbying Reforms on Cutting Room Floor
Repeats Call for Speaker Pelosi & Leader Hoyer to Bring House GOP Earmark Reform Resolution to a Vote
Washington, Jul 31 - House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) today criticized Democratic congressional leaders for stripping key reform provisions out of the lobbying reform bill being rushed through Congress this week, and repeated calls for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) to schedule a vote on a House Republican resolution that would require all earmarks in all bills to be publicly disclosed and subject to challenge and debate on the House floor.
“While the leadership of the current majority congratulates itself on the belated passage of a lobbying reform bill that is largely indistinguishable from the Republican bill they opposed last year, I encourage the American people to take a look at the provisions Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid stripped out of the bill as they wrote it in secrecy in recent weeks. Left on the cutting room floor were reforms added to the earlier bill by Republicans that won bipartisan support on the House floor – reforms that would do more than anything in the current bill to restore trust between the American people and their elected leaders.
While the GOP rightly criticizes flaws in correcting the abuse of earmarks it is reasonable to conclude this is primarily a political statement crafted to criticize the Democratic leadership. But an excerpt related to the GOP complaint is offered below as evidence S.1 is another waste of time effort by Congress to side step ethical principles in government.
Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (Engrossed Amendment as Agreed to by House)
SEC. 521. CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED SPENDING.
The Standing Rules of the Senate are amended by adding at the end the following:
`Congressionally Directed Spending and Related Items
`4. (a) If during consideration of a bill or joint resolution, a Senator proposes an amendment containing a congressionally directed spending item, limited tax benefit, or limited tariff benefit which was not included in the bill or joint resolution as placed on the calendar or as reported by any committee, in a committee report on such bill or joint resolution, or a committee report of the Senate on a companion measure, then as soon as practicable, the Senator shall ensure that a list of such items (and the name of any Senator who submitted a request to the Senator for each respective item included in the list) is printed in the Congressional Record.
All the above excerpt points out is earmarks will live, the disclosure will be masked by rule as most politicians will only offer them in amendments to be hidden as best they can within the Congressional Record. It would be more ethical to simply eliminate earmarks rather than posture about how you will include them.
So the GOP is right about earmarks to some degree but both parties are using politics as usual to do nothing about unethical activities in the United States Congress or anywhere else. The overwhelming passage indicated by the roll call vote only suggests that few are willing to vote against any 'ethics' reform legislation purely as political convenience and not wanting to look bad for opposing it. Bottom line, there is no ethics reform. The remainder of the bill is just a dance that alters current language. It is a challenge to journey thru the bill and find anything useful.