Ethics Bill Passes Senate, Do-Nothing Congress Lives Up To Its Name

If the Ethics Bill just approved by Congress had passed this time last year, a media hell-bent on giving Democrats control of that governmental branch would have lambasted the legislation as an election year stunt by Republicans desperately trying to distance themselves from their own culture of corruption.

Yet, twelve months later, with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) at the helm, it seems a metaphysical certitude Katie, Charlie, and Brian will hail this bill's passage as a crowning achievement of Democrats that vowed to clean up Washington.

In fact, you can already see the self-congratulations in the Associated Press article written shortly after the votes were counted (emphasis added throughout):

The Senate voted Thursday to make lawmakers disclose more about their efforts to fund pet projects and raise money from lobbyists, a move some called the biggest advance in congressional ethics in decades.

The 83 to 14 vote, which sends the bill to President Bush, prompted Democrats to claim fulfillment of their 2006 campaign promise to crack down on lobbying abuses that sent some lawmakers and a prominent lobbyist to prison.

And, there will certainly be wonderful sound-bites available for gushing sycophants:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called it "the most sweeping reform bill since Watergate."

[...]

"By any measure," [Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin)] said in the debate, the bill "must be considered landmark legislation."

[...]

Public Citizen said it amounts to "far-reaching lobbying and ethics reforms."

Fred Wertheimer of Democracy21 called it "a great victory for the American people and a major accomplishment for Congress and its leaders." He said it will give the public "comprehensive information about the multiple ways in which lobbyists provide campaign funds and other financial support" to lawmakers they seek to influence.

Yet, Senators Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) and Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), during a conference call that I was proud to take part of moments after today's vote in the Senate, had a hard time hiding their disappointment.

After all, the lofty goals established by those looking for serious ethics reform were clearly not attained. Not even close.

In fact, the following statement from Sen. Coburn's press release after the vote likely would have been similar to what media representatives would have said if the 109th Congress passed the exact same bill last year (emphasis added throughout):

"This bill is a landmark betrayal, not a landmark accomplishment. Congress had a historic opportunity to expose secretive pork-barrel spending but instead created new ways to hide that spending. Anti-incumbent attitudes, which were already at an all-time high, will only grow when the public realizes this bill was a sham," Dr. Coburn said.

Can't you hear CNN's Jack Cafferty or MSNBC's Chris Matthews saying virtually the same thing last year if the Republicans passed an ethics bill that didn't totally eliminate earmarks?

Even more importantly, can you envision ABC's George Stephanopoulos or NBC's Tim Matthews carefully going over the following laundry list of items demonstrating how much the final bill which passed on Thursday departed from earmark reforms initially proposed by Speaker Pelosi and subsequently approved by the Senate in a 98-0 vote (also from Coburn's August 2 press release):

1) Prohibits Senators from trading earmarks for votes

INCLUDED IN SENATE-PASSED BILL: YES
INCLUDED IN NEW BILL: NO

2) Prohibits Senators from promoting earmarks that would financially benefit themselves, their immediate family, their staff, a [sic] their staff's immediate family

INCLUDED IN SENATE-PASSED BILL: YES
INCLUDED IN NEW BILL: NO

3) Allows the Senate parliamentarian to determine compliance with the new earmark disclosure rule

INCLUDED IN SENATE-PASSED BILL: YES
INCLUDED IN NEW BILL: NO

4) Prohibits consideration of bills, joint resolutions, and conference reports if earmarks are not disclosed

INCLUDED IN SENATE-PASSED BILL: YES
INCLUDED IN NEW BILL: NO

5) Requires earmarks attached to a conference report to be publicly available on the Internet in a searchable format 48 hours before consideration

INCLUDED IN SENATE-PASSED BILL: YES
INCLUDED IN NEW BILL: NO

6) Requires 67 votes to suspend the earmark disclosure rule

INCLUDED IN SENATE-PASSED BILL: YES
INCLUDED IN NEW BILL: NO

7) Requires a full day's notice prior to attempting to suspend the earmark disclosure rule

INCLUDED IN SENATE-PASSED BILL: YES
INCLUDED IN NEW BILL: NO

8) Requires all earmark certifications from Senators to be posted on the Internet within 48 hours after an earmark is placed into legislation or its accompanying report

INCLUDED IN SENATE-PASSED BILL: YES
INCLUDED IN NEW BILL: NO

Doesn't sound like a very good ethics bill, does it? And, that's how it would have been reported last year.

Sadly, with a different Party in power, the American people will be told how wonderful this is, and how the Democrats solved all the corruption problems in Washington just as they promised.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

Regardless, in the midst of their disgust, true conservatives must give a grateful tip of the hat to Senators Coburn and DeMint who have both been on the frontlines trying first to make sure that true earmark reform occurred, and then doing everything possible to prevent this final version from passing.

As DeMint accurately stated in his post-vote press release:

"This bill is a charade meant to give cover to politicians who want to continue secret earmarks," said Senator DeMint. "Sadly, more members are worried about having a good sound-bite for their next election than they are about doing what's right and being honest with America. This was about incumbency protection and pretending to do something."

Ironically, the folks who voted against this bill are likely to be painted by press representatives as being opposed to ethics reform. The reality is these people wanted a stronger bill, and weren't willing to settle for less.

Alas, that's the condition of our Congress today: legislation is no longer bold; it is, instead, a watered-down compromise.

To some, this is a step forward. This is what they see as bipartisanship, effective governance to actually be lauded.

To others, this is a way to sweep problems under the rug, while with the assistance of the media, take credit where none is due.

The end result is that the do-nothing 110th Congress is finally going to be able to take a bow, with press representatives enthusiastically and unashamedly on their feet applauding.

Sadly, there's no little dog in the room tugging at the curtain.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.