September 10, 2007

The Ethics Bill That Hides Dishonesty

What should President Bush do with an ethics reform that leaves the American people in a worse position to discover and fight pork-barrel spending? Robert Novak notes the dilemma in which Bush finds himself as Congress reconvenes. Can he afford to veto their vaunted new ethics bill -- and can he affort not to veto it?

The final version of the widely celebrated ethics bill, approved by overwhelming margins in both the House and Senate a month ago, finally and quietly made its way last week from Capitol Hill to the White House. It surely will soon be signed into law by President Bush. What only a handful of leaders and insiders realize is that this measure, avowedly dedicated to transparency, actually makes it easier for the Senate to pass pet projects without the public -- or many senators -- being aware of it.

Until now, one or two senators could block provisions not passed by the Senate or House from being inserted, usually at the end of a session, into the final version of a bill. Under the new rule, it will take 40 senators to block any such provisions that are protected by the majority or even the bipartisan leadership. That will make it much easier to enact any number of special-interest measures, the goal of all too many members of Congress.

Tom Coburn has already blasted this ethics bill as nothing more than a sham that punishes lobbyists while ensuring that legislators can continue all of their bad habits. Even the crusading Senator missed this loophole, however. Apart from Coburn's blast about changing the authorities on pork processes from the parliamentarians to the majority leadership in both chambers, it also allows almost unlimited access to earmarking through conference report addendums.

It's a strange kind of reform that makes corruption more difficult to discover and create higher hurdles to fight. However, this is what the Democrats -- with plenty of willing Republicans -- have produced in the 110th Congress. It's an ethics bill that allows more unethical behavior.

Should Bush then veto the legislation? That's a tougher call. Generally speaking, the executive branch has allowed Congress to set its own rules and police its own members. A veto could get painted as a suck-up to lobbyists unless the White House could launch a communications blitz to get the failures of this bill highlighted. That seems unlikely, and with momentum shifting to the administration on the Iraq war, Bush may not want to pick this particular fight at this particular moment.

It should get vetoed, however, even if Bush doesn't feel like doing it. It's a bad piece of legislation, and it makes matters even worse because it pretends to be solving ethical lapses on the Hill. It lills the American voters into complacency on corruption, which is right where the corrupt want us.


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Comments (13)

Posted by shaun | September 10, 2007 6:43 AM

There is something absolutely hilarious about pondering what the most ethically challenged president in memory should do about an ethically challenged ethics bill.

Posted by BK | September 10, 2007 7:05 AM

Shaun: "most ethically challenged president in memory"

Wow, that must mean your memory starts at 2000. Must make you around nine or ten years old?

There are plenty of compliants to be made about Bush, but the most ethically challenged isn't one of them. Clinton has that award safely on display in his trophy case.


Posted by docjim505 | September 10, 2007 7:30 AM

I'm waiting for the MSM to pursue the "Culture of Corruption" meme that they had before the '06 elections.

(crickets chirping)

Yeah, that's about what I thought.

As for what President Bush should do, it's simple: he should give a prime time address to the nation explaining in TREMENDOUS detail just why he will not sign the legislation. He should then announce that he's directing the Justice Department to start an investigation of Congressional lobbying practices in the interests of "oversight" and "checks and balances", and that subpoenas have been issued for the Congressional leadership. At the end of his address, he should take out his pen and very clearly write "NO - GWB" on the front of the bill and send it back to Congress.

Investigation after investigation after investigation. Hearing after hearing after hearing. After all, that's how it's done in DC, eh, Senator Schumer?

Posted by Stephen Macklin | September 10, 2007 7:37 AM

They don't want to reduce corruption, they want to reduce the appearance of corruption. In other words they want to make sure we can never see exactly how corrupt they really are.

Posted by howard lohmuller | September 10, 2007 7:46 AM

The real solution to stopping the practice of earmarking, that leads to installing politicians as go betweens between money funded by Congress and business and organizations directly connected to the politician, is a form of revenue sharing. First legislation is needed to set a cap on earmarks each funding period with a set formula for distribution with a mandate for full disclosure. Further legislation would install revenue sharing according to budget allowing state and local government to determine how the money allotted to them is spent rather than the politician deciding. Politicians would have to give up some of their power but one of the most serious sources of corruption in government would be eliminated.

Posted by Scott | September 10, 2007 9:37 AM

Is this a bill that must be signed before it goes into affect, or will it go into effect if not vetoed?

I would like to see Bush say something like,

"The bill that is before me has been passed by the Legislative Branch, and defines their rules of conduct. Much has been said and written about my philosophy on separation of powers between the branches of the federal government, particularly the Executive Branch. I strongly feel that the Legislative Branch should be empowered to conduct their business as they see fit.

That being said, this bill has serious flaws. This bill allows (...insert all flaws here...). I cannot sign this bill in good conscience because it violates the most important aspect of democratic government: openness and honesty. Therefore I will not sign this bill. Congress can enact it as they see fit."

Posted by FedUp | September 10, 2007 9:40 AM

First step is term limits to get rid of the porkers slopping at the taxpayers trough! Then, line item veto so that maybe we could limit the amount of pork ('earmarks') that could be shuffled though.

I think rational people would see through the garbage that is being spouted about 'ethical reform'. That's the biggest joke (next to Harry Reid) that's come out of this congress. Time for us to wake up and hold these lying, cheating morons accountable. It's not THEIR money... it's OUR money and we should have a better say in how it's being (mis)handled!

Posted by Cousin Dave | September 10, 2007 9:49 AM

Scott: If the President does not sign the bill, what happens next depends on whether Congress remains in session. If it is, then the bill becomes law after ten days have elapsed. If Congress adjourns, then the result is known as a "pocket veto" and the bill does not become law.

In this case, since there is still another year to go in the current Congress, then it will almost certainly still be in session ten days after the bill passes. Bush has the option to allow the bill to become law without his signature. I recall Reagan doing this a couple of times, and it might be the best option available to Bush in this politically difficult situation.

Posted by Scott | September 10, 2007 10:18 AM

Thanks, Dave.

I think Bush should let it become law, with appropriate comments. Get it on the table that the Most Ethical Congress Ever has not yet been elected.

Posted by Ken Oglesby | September 10, 2007 11:15 AM

Ethics and politicians.
The supreme oxymoron.

Posted by LarryD | September 10, 2007 12:53 PM

Term Limits (for Congress at a minimum, but I'll suggest it for Judges and Bureaucrats too).

Restore Impoundment.

More transparency. More accountability.

Posted by Al in St. Lou | September 10, 2007 12:54 PM

Doc Jim has it right. The President needs to veto the bill at the end of a prime-time speech where he explains why.

Posted by FedUp | September 10, 2007 1:52 PM

I hope that Bush vetoes this piece of garbage! Although, the reality is, no matter what the law is, there are those who will find ways around it! Does Beverly Hill really need $4 billion i pork? Piggy Feinstein thinks so and so it shall be! Who are we to tell her no????

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