Let’s Remain Wary of a Congress That Wants to Get Rid of Ethical Oversight
All you need to know about the state of ethics in D.C. was made evident last night when members of the House GOP voted to eliminate an independent ethics oversight committee. In a shock to many, Republicans in Congress made a plot to take down the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) its first act of business in 2017.
Fortunately, the immediate reaction toward the Republicans’ stunt was fierce enough to force the party to alter their initial proposal and unanimously drop the plan the following morning.
This news is undoubtedly a relief to Americans who have watched the political process in dismay over the past few months. The fact that the combined public and media outrage was listened to rather than ignored is almost refreshing. It’s a welcome sign that speaking up and pushing back against the establishment can still yield some victories.
Certainly, it also helps that the GOP did not unilaterally support this idea to start. Both President-elect Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan criticized this move, yet Republican representatives did not heed their leaders’ advice, instead opting to try to alter the system.
Although this story has reached a better conclusion – for now, anyway – it’s alarming to see that undermining ethics rules was at the top of the agenda in the first place. It’s not unreasonable to interpret the Republicans’ interest in loosening ethics oversight as a sign that they want to flout ethics rules. Clearly, citizens and reporters must remain vigilant to see what our elected officials are trying to get away with.
To understand why the OCE is important, we don’t have to travel back too far in history. The nonpartisan panel was established in 2008 in direct response to a rash of illicit activities committed by U.S. representatives in both major parties that saw three members of Congress go to jail.
While the OCE does not have the power to punish anyone for wrongdoing, it can independently investigate issues that the House Committee on Ethics – made up by members of Congress – might choose to overlook for blatantly political reasons. The OCE then can turn over its findings to the House committee for review and potential consequences.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was the majority leader at the time the OCE was created, helped lead the charge against the GOP’s plan last night before the party backtracked.
“Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions,” Pelosi said. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
The Republicans’ primary justification for dumping ethics oversight was to increase “transparency.” They argue that by eliminating people from being able to come forward to report wrongdoing anonymously, members of Congress don’t have the opportunity to face their accusers, which opens the door to baseless partisan attacks.
Ignoring the fact that “baseless partisan attacks” are Congress’s number one hobby, what this argument fails to account for is how difficult it is to blow the whistle on influential, wealthy legislators. Besides, anonymous tips don’t convict anyone – though they can be used as a lead to pursue more concrete evidence.
Make no mistake – the American people want this kind of oversight. Polling shows that over 80 percent of the population says it doesn’t trust the government all of the time, which is why it’s only appropriate to have an independent panel examining potential misdeeds to keep politicians on the up-and-up.
Trump may have seemingly gotten a pass from a large portion of the electorate on his many conflicts of interest, but that’s no excuse for Republicans to start doing away with ethics altogether. Let’s keep demanding increased accountability from our elected officials; we’ll be in a lot of trouble if we allow our lawmakers to get rid of these rules altogether.
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