Deliberate Inaction Disguised as Reform

When finally faced with growing public awareness and anger over just how corrupt our House had become, Republicans promised a great deal. In January, they asked us to believe they were going to reform their ways and work to eliminate the corruption they made endemic in Washington. But since then, very little has come from the Republican Party, even though it controls the House, the Senate, and the White House. If Republicans were interested in true ethics reform, they could have passed it swiftly. Instead, they seem determined to merely run out the clock on the issue, passing a few deceptive bills here and there while secretly hoping the whole subject will just go away.

We saw their strategy with the first ethics "reform" act passed by the House in February, a minor rules change that did little more than prevent former Members of Congress from using the House gym - as if that is the only place dishonest business transpires in Washington. Then in May, a broader Republican bill theoretically focused on preventing future lobbyist abuses was lambasted by commentators of all stripes for being what it was: a sham.

It has been a history of deliberate inaction, and this week's loophole-ridden earmark legislation was no different. It was nothing more than the latest Republican attempt to look busy while actually protecting business as usual. This bill - set to expire at the end of the year - will do nothing to stem the tide of corruption that has shaken the House to its foundation. It serves one purpose only: to help Republicans look like reformers when they go home to campaign for the November elections.

But the opposite is the case. So far this year, the Republican leadership has blocked every significant Democratic drive for comprehensive and meaningful ethics reform, both in the Rules Committee and on the House Floor. Instead, we have been given toothless legislation that is all bark and no bite.

As always, there is an alternative. More than six months ago, my Democratic colleagues and I authored a tough, systematic, and common-sense ethics reform package that would correct many of the most rampant abuses plaguing Washington, abuses that have diverted the work being done here away from the good of the people and toward the wants of the few.

Legislation I have introduced on behalf of the Democratic Leadership bans travel on corporate jets. It prohibits lobbyist gifts, slows down the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street, and addresses many of the broken procedures and rules here in the House.

It focuses on earmarks, too, requiring Members to publicly disclose all district-specific earmark requests they make on bills and conference reports - a far more comprehensive approach than possessed by this week's bill.

I am happy to say that in May, 16 Republicans joined with the Democrats in support of our legislation. It was deeply encouraging to see rank-and-file Republicans of conscience challenge their Party's leadership, to see them back up their pledge to clean up the House with sincere action.

And they will have other chances to do it, too. Democrats haven't given up this fight. We have always prided ourselves on delivering what we promise. We are committed to eliminating the corruption that plagues our Congress today, and we won't stop until we get there. Together, we are going to give the American people a Congress they can be proud of again.