I have to give credit where it's due. I've criticized Nancy Pelosi for her missteps since the election, but if the House Democratic rule package ends up being as the New York Times describes, I will have to eat my words and offer congratulations:
Besides the bipartisan group, Democrats are expected to propose a ban on gifts and meals from lobbyists and organizations that employ them; a prohibition on lobbyists and their employers from planning, organizing, requesting, financing, arranging or participating in travel for members or staff; and a bar to the use of official or campaign money to pay for using corporate jets.
The emerging rules would also require the disclosure of earmarks, the special provisions in bills that lawmakers use to direct dollars to specific projects or favored causes. Lawmakers would also have to certify that any request for such spending is not in their personal financial interest.
I think some of these are little more than public relations measures, but there's no need to quibble. Some of these moves are good; others sound good. I think the House may be going too far in limiting privately-funded travel, but I doubt it will damage the polity.
The encouraging sign for me is that Ms. Pelosi is considering the establishment of an outside ethics body to handle complaints about Members of Congress. She has reportedly discussed this with Minority Leader Boehner. It is something that the House has resisted vociferously, but they've shown little reason to have confidence that they can police their own. I think it would be a very smart move.
From the Times:
House Democrats are seriously exploring the creation of an independent ethics arm to enforce new rules on travel, lobbying, gifts and other issues that Democrats intend to put in place on taking power next month...
An independent Congressional watchdog, if approved, would be a major break with tradition. Some lawmakers say House and Senate members have sole responsibility for policing themselves when it comes to internal rules.
Some lawmakers have said an independent entity could be unconstitutional...
Yes - some lawmakers have said it could be unconstitutional, and some would have stood with Dennis Hastert defending crimes hidden in Congressional offices. Neither position is particularly wise.
My only admonition based on what's discussed here is that the American people won't have much more trust in former Members of Congress than in current Members of Congress. Ms. Pelosi might need to consider a different approach - perhaps one involving former judges, for example.
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