Wednesday, April 13, 2005



The Republican majority promised after the 1994 elections to manage the House in a way that fostered "deliberative democracy," which they defined as the "full and free airing of conflicting opinions through hearings, debates, and amendments." They also pledged in their Contract with America to "restore accountability to Congress" and to "end its cycle of scandal and disgrace." Instead of sticking to their word, they have broken their promises, betrayed the public trust, and abused their power. Specifically, they have undermined the ethics of the House, abandoned any principle of procedural fairness or democratic accountability, and overreached into private family matters and the federal judiciary.

Republicans have created a democracy-free zone. In March, Rep. Louise Slaughter, ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, released an in-depth report on rules abuses by Republicans during the 108th Congress. Under the current House leadership, floor debate is muzzled, votes are cast with fear of retribution and legitimate amendments never see the light of day. They ram thousands of pages of major legislation through with only a few hours for review, permit few if any floor amendments (4 percent in the Democratic amendments submitted in the 108th), and hold open floor votes until enough arms have been twisted to ensure passage. As a result, many Members do not have an opportunity to express the views and values of their constituents -- effectively disenfranchising half the country. Democrats are demanding that Congress return to a deliberative process worthy of the "People's House," where allegiance to the American people outweighs partisan ideology and the influence of special interests.

Republicans effectively shut down the ethics process. Republicans made their first order of business for the 109th Congress to attack the Ethics Committee, rewriting many of its bipartisan rules in favor of rules that will make ethics investigations more difficult to pursue. The new rules seriously weaken enforcement by automatically dismissing any ethics complaint after 45 days unless a majority of the bipartisan committee votes to begin an investigation. The GOP rules change allows one party to block the Ethics Committee from investigating the facts of the complaint. The former Republican chairman of the Ethics Committee said: "The rules package adopted by the House in January stands to undermine the committee's mission, not to mention the integrity of the House." (Congress Daily AM, 3/16/05) That the GOP's first priority for the 109th Congress has been to lower the bar of integrity should be a warning to the American people.

Not only did Republicans undermine the ethics process, but they stacked the Ethics Committee. At the beginning of the year, the Republican Leadership dismissed Republican Members of the Ethics Committee, even the Chairman, who had refused to compromise the ethics rules for the party leadership. And then, the newly appointed Chairman unilaterally fired non-partisan Committee staff who assisted in the ethics work in the last session. In a statement to the press, the departing Chairman of the Committee stated "(t)here is a bad perception out there that there was a purge in the Committee and that people were put in that would protect our side of the aisle better than I did," and a replaced Republican Member noted his belief that "the decision (regarding his dismissal) was a direct result of our work in the last session."

Republicans are protecting Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has been admonished three times by the Ethics Committee. Last fall, the House Majority Leader was admonished three times by the Ethics Committee for: offering political support in return for a vote on the prescription drug bill; misusing federal resources for partisan political purposes; and offering special access for campaign contributor, Westar Energy. These admonishments were unanimous and bipartisan. The Ethics Committee also warned DeLay that it had identified a clear pattern of misbehavior by him and would be on the lookout for additional instances when he pushed the bounds of acceptable conduct in pursuing his legislative and political goals.

Media stories are raising new questions about the conduct of Majority Leader Tom DeLay. In recent weeks, newspaper articles have detailed trips DeLay took to Russia and Scotland that he had reported were funded by nonprofit organizations, but which were directly or indirectly paid for by lobbyists or foreign agents. House rules prohibit members from taking trips funded by such entities. In both cases, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, was involved in these trips. Tom DeLay's extensive ties with special interest lobbyists are raising serious questions about his conduct.

Even the Wall Street Journal has raised questions. In fact, even conservatives have begun to raise questions about the Majority Leader. As the Wall Street Journal editorial page commented, "The that Mr. DeLay, who rode to power in 1994 on a wave of revulsion at the everyday ways of big government, has become the living exemplar of some of its worst habits. Mr. DeLay's ties to Mr. Abramoff might be innocent, in a strictly legal sense, but it strains credulity to believe that Mr. DeLay found nothing strange with being included in Mr. Abramoff's lavish junkets." They went on to say, "Whether Mr. DeLay violated the small print of House Ethics or campaign- finance rules is thus largely beside the point. His real fault lies in betraying the broader set of principles that brought him into office, and which, if he continues as before, sooner or later will sweep him out." (Wall Street Journal, 3/28/05)

Congressional Republicans raise questions about DeLay. Republican leader, Sen. Rick Santorum stated that Majority Leader DeLay needed to "lay out what he did and why he did it" (Los Angeles Times, 4/11/05) House member Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) said, "Tom (DeLay)'s conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority and it is hurting any Republican who is up for re-election," in an interview with the AP calling for DeLay to step down as majority leader. (USA Today, 4/11/05)

Republicans threaten an independent judiciary and assert themselves in private family matters. Republicans have said they believe in limited government, but then the majority brought the entire federal government to intervene in the personal tragedy of just one family. Likewise, their thinly-veiled threats toward federal judges are just an irresponsible attempt to undermine the independence of the federal judiciary. Speaking about the federal judges that allowed the feeding tube to be removed from Terry Schiavo, DeLay said, "The time will come for the men to answer for their behavior."

House Democrats have a better way. House Democrats urge the majority to restore accountability and democratic deliberation to the people's House. Democrats would open up the process by allowing debate and votes on more serious amendments; allow more bills to be considered under open rules; spend more time on major, substantive legislation; bring back regular order; and give Members three days to read conference reports. Further, Democrats would establish a bipartisan committee to make recommendations to restore a bipartisan and effective ethics process. Democrats introduced a resolution to put together a bipartisan task force that would make recommendations that would restore public confidence in the ethics process, but Republicans killed the resolution, without debate. Members of the House should be held to the highest ethical standard, not the lowest.