Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Same As It Ever Was

UPDATE: Well, that was quick

In an emergency meeting just before noon Tuesday, House Republican lawmakers voted to strip the move on the ethics agency from a package of rules that is due to be voted upon later in the House of Representatives. Their decision to adopt the measure Monday night had opened splits in the GOP and put House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump on opposite sides of a key issue on the first day of the 115th Congress.

They were sleazy and got caught. It took less than 24 hours to remind people just how awful the Republicans in Congress can be.

Never mind.

Original post:

Congress has now reverted to the way things were when Tom DeLay was running things. The Office of Congressional Ethics has been neutered and Josh Marshall explains what that means:

In the latter days of the Bush Administration, the House of Representatives was rocked by a long, slow burn corruption scandal known mainly by the name of Jack Abramoff, a GOP operative whose lobbying operation was at the center of much of it. But there were actually a group of scandals which collectively grew out of the system of technically legal organized corruption that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay had built to run and permanently dominate the House with an iron system of money and favors. The first major blow-up was the case of disgraced ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (after whom the Golden Dukes are named), the comically iconic Bush/DeLay Era corruption scandal. He literally produced a 'menu' for things crooked contractors could buy from him and at what cost. There was the Cunningham scandal and various sub-scandals that grew from it; there was the bigger and more wide-ranging Abramoff scandal and various sub-scandals that grew from it. But what really set the stage was something that happened in November 2004, just after President Bush's reelection and the dawn of the GOP's 'permanent majority.' That was when DeLay, then under indictment in Texas, got the GOP House caucus to push through a rules change (the 'DeLay Rule') to allow an indicted member of the leadership to remain in office. 

Just tonight, at what I suspect is a historically similar moment, we have a replay in the again-GOP-run House.

Before we get to what happened this evening, a bit more background. When the Democrats took back control of the House in the 2006 wave election, they did so with the rampant corruption of the congressional GOP as one of their major campaign themes. So in the Spring of 2008 they created Office of Congressional Ethics, a congressional oversight office which was independent of the members themselves. The House Ethics Committee is supposed to handle ethics questions. But it's run by members and was generally as good at sweeping ethics issues under the rug as addressing them. More generously, in an era of intense partisanship, it was often simply un-runnable. In any case, the OCE was able to do a lot of things the Ethics Committee could not. It could look into anything it wanted to. It could issue recommendations to the Ethics Committee.

The corruption that flourished during the Bush years stands to make a comeback. There will be a new DeLay, a new Abramoff, and a new Duke Cunningham who will all thrive in the absence of any monitoring of Congress. Ethics have been thrown out the window. These people are going to start ramming money in their pockets as fast as they can. Welcome to the new way of doing things.

This is a fantastic short-term strategy. The Republicans can solidify their power base, rake in donations, and build fantastic war chests for the mid-term elections in two years. What they can do is, essentially, make it harder for Democrats to win by creating a massive advantage in money that will drown out any kind of message.

Their message has to be, "the crooks are back in charge, and this is what they're doing with your money."

I would encourage Democrats to attack this on two fronts. One, a corrupt Congress is usually very, very bad on oversight and compliance. Favors are bought and traded and no one wants an inspector general looking at them with a raised eyebrow. And, two, someone always ends up living to a level of excess that will excite the press into making a mockery out of them. This happened during the Bush era. The oversight provided by Congress fell woefully short of preventing the Bush Administration from looking absolutely incompetent and from surrounding itself with cronies who couldn't do the job. And Duke Cunningham being serviced by hookers on his yacht was a story the press loved. It gave them a ready-made sex scandal that allowed them to hold forth on television and make fun of someone who got caught.

There has to be a familiar refrain from all of this--the corruption and incompetence of these new-look Republicans should be the message. Every time some weird, out-of-touch political appointee gets a Federal job, someone needs to watch what they say and do and report on it. I'm already waiting to see who gets the job at the Veteran's Administration. Will we have another crony who tut-tuts paying solders for their PTSD and suggests that all they need is prayer? 

Every time a major piece of legislation slips through Congress, someone needs to find out who paid for it and what they're getting out of it. And I hate to say this, but when the Republicans have control of FEMA, we really need to watch what happens when there's another natural disaster and see if an issue can be raised out of what was done and what wasn't done to take care of people. I suspect they are going to privatize FEMA and wash their hands of it.

Paying attention to tweets is the wrong strategy. Watching what actually happens in Congress if far more important in the next two years. If the Democrats can find a way to take back the House and Senate, the era of corruption can be brought to a swift conclusion.


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