Ethics II: don't stall in U.S. House
Washington congressman Doc Hastings' new job will test his mettle and his renowned strategy of party fealty. The Pasco Republican is the...
WASHINGTON Congressman Doc Hastings' new job will test his mettle and his renowned strategy of party fealty.
The Pasco Republican is the new chairman of the House ethics committee, burdened by cynical rule changes authored by GOP leadership. At his first meeting, he faced an uprising with the five Democratic members refusing to accept the rule changes. Evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, the committee was effectively shut down.
The impasse means the House has no way to deal with ethics violations of its members. There are some doozies out there, not the least of which is revelations about Rep. Tom Delay's lobbyist-financed golf trip to Scotland and another to South Korea. Hastings voted with the previous ethics committee to admonish Delay last year.
And don't forget Hastings' fellow Washington congressman. The pending complaint against Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, alleges misconduct for leaking an intercepted cellphone call involving a Republican congressman.
As chairman, Hastings not only has the opportunity, but the duty, to broker a solution between Democratic and GOP leadership. His success could help validate his career strategy of hanging close to leadership and diffuse the cynicism that surrounds the recent GOP machinations around the committee.
In a controversial move, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert appointed Hastings to replace the independent-minded and respected Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado. The speaker also replaced two other Republicans, inserting members with a better record of loyalty.
Then there are the rule changes, which would foreclose any ethics probe unless the ethics committee's Republican chairman and top Democrat agree. If the complaint is not acted upon in as few as 45 days, it can disappear. Previously, if they couldn't agree, a subcommittee was formed to look into the matter.
The old rule erred on the side of attempting to be aboveboard. The new rule permits partisan stalling as a means to make a potential embarrassment go away.
The committee's top Democrat, Rep. Alan Mollahan of West Virginia, says Democrats won't play under the new rules. He's recruiting Republicans to back his resolution to rewrite the rules. Hastert's spokesman says, no way.
The stalemate is untenable. The House needs an effective and working ethics committee that is credible — and Hastings should insist on it.
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