According to Bob Schieffer, the Democrats in Congress will be pursuing an "ambitious schedule" on ethics reform. Yet, Schieffer neglected to mention what the Democratic leadership is going to do about ethically challenged Democrats like William Jefferson of Louisiana or Alan Mollohan of West Virginia. Schieffer, appearing on the "Early Show’s" weekly "Capitol Bob" segment, noted loopholes in the Democrats plan on ethics reform, but was pleased that the new Congress was "going to get started."
However, when the Republican controlled Congress attempted to overhaul ethics procedures in June, Schieffer classified these attempts as "not much more than a joke." In a June 11, 2006 commentary on CBS’ "Face the Nation," Schieffer lamented:
"Finally, on matters closer to home, the House of Representatives has an Ethics Committee. I'm not kidding, it really does. In fact, the House Ethics Committee met last week to review the reforms Congress has proposed in the wake of the current scandal over bribes and corruption. Unfortunately, what Congress has done so far is not much more than a joke."
Schieffer was outraged that the Republican proposal would allow lawmakers to accept almost any free gift, if it was approved by the House Ethics Committee and the donors name was made public. To him that reform was "a joke." Yet the, current Democratic proposal, which would ban a member of Congress from accepting lunch from a lobbyist, unless it is in connection with a campaign fund-raising event is an "ambitious schedule." Regarding this reform, a lobbyist quoted in Thursday’s ‘Washington Post’ said:
"We would be able to take people out to lunch, but only if we give them a check while we do it. That looks more corrupting than what we have under the current system."
While the Republican plan instituted public transparency in the process, the current Democratic proposal encourages lobbyists to provide more favors, in the form of campaign checks, to members. So which plan is really not much more than a joke?
Transcripts of the "Capitol Bob" segment from Thursday’s "Early Show," as well as Bob Schieffer’s June 11 commentary follow:
January 4, 2007
Russ Mitchell: "As we said at the top, all eyes are on the new Democratic-led Congress that convenes today. And one man watching especially closely is 'Capitol Bob,' CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent and host of 'Face the Nation,' Bob Schieffer. Bob, good morning to you."
Bob Schieffer: "Good morning Russ."
Russ Mitchell: "As Nancy Pelosi and company prepare to take over, what's number one on the agenda?"
Bob Schieffer: "Well the first thing they are going to try to do is put in a new set of rules to somehow try to help this corruption and clean it up and try to divorce the Congress from the lobby. I mean, these last years have been some of the worst in the history of the Congress. They've got a very ambitious schedule of things to do, Russ. They're going to ban all travel on corporate airplanes. They're going to make congressmen who slip these secret funding requests, what we call earmarks, they're going to make them identify themselves. It's very ambitious but on the other hand there are a lot of loopholes written into this thing. For example, a lobbyist will no longer be able to take a member of Congress to lunch unless it is in connection with a campaign fund-raising event. One lobbyist told the 'Washington Post, today, 'we can't take them to lunch unless we also give them a check while we're at the lunch. And if we do that then we can take them to lunch.' So there are a lot of loopholes there. Also on this ban on planes, riding on corporate aircraft, if that is done and the money is funneled through a non-profit foundation, we're told, then that flight might be alright. So they've got an ambitious schedule laid out, and they'll pass some of this. But, as everybody here says, this is only a start. It's very, very difficult to write laws governing the Congress and campaigns, because it's the one instance in America where the people writing the regulations are also the ones being regulated. It will always be controversial. There will always be more work to do on that front. At least they're going to get started."
Russ Mitchell: "Well a lot of stuff to do, right now the president and the new Democratic-controlled Congress say they want to work together. I have to ask you is this 'can't we get along before the knives come out' or will they in fact work together very well?"
Bob Schieffer: "Both sides will do what is in their own best interests, Russ, and sometimes what is in their own best interests will be the same for the White House and for the Congress. And when that happens, they'll get something done. The main thing that's going to happen today is that campaign 2008 starts when the new Congress comes in. They may get a little work done along the way, but all of them now have to raise so much money before they get to Washington that when they get here, it's now very difficult for them to compromise because they've signed off with so many special interests groups. It'll be slow going but I think they may get a couple of things done. I think they may actually pass an immigration bill. The main thing that will be before the Congress, of course, is the Iraq war, and what do you do about that? At this point Democrats are not speaking with one voice, but we'll just have to see how that goes."
Russ Mitchell: "Along those lines we're now hearing, of course, that the president is expected to announce a boost or recommend a boost in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Democrats and Republicans in Congress have said they are opposed to that. Bob, how likely is it that the Iraq issue will consume this Congress?"
Bob Schieffer: "Well, it's certainly going to have to be dealt with. I think both sides would like to get it off the table before the 2008 election, Russ. But, again, I think if it is pointed out that there's a specific reason for sending more troops in for a very short time, I think the president will -- the Congress will probably go along with the president on that. But any sort of long-term commitment, for one thing, we don't have the troops to increase the numbers there very much. You're going to have to keep the people there longer than they were scheduled to be there. You're going to have to send other troops in earlier. They'll go along on a very short-term basis but not on any--term basis. There's just no appetite for that in the country and in the Congress, Russ."
Russ Mitchell: CBS's Bob Schieffer, 'Capitol Bob,' as always thank you so much.
June 11, 2006
"Face the Nation"
Bob Schieffer: "Finally, on matters closer to home, the House of Representatives has an Ethics Committee. I'm not kidding, it really does. In fact, the House Ethics Committee met last week to review the reforms Congress has proposed in the wake of the current scandal over bribes and corruption. Unfortunately, what Congress has done so far is not much more than a joke. The new House proposal, for example, allows legislators to accept free airplane tickets, free almost anything if the Ethics Committee approves it and if the donor's name is made public. The ranking Democrat on the committee, Howard Berman, explained it this way, `As a general rule,' he said, `I think the answer is to disclose it all and take your lumps.' As a general rule, I agree. Voters should choose any person they want to represent them. So if the Goat Roper Association buys someone else's congressman a free ticket to Hawaii so he can get drunk and do the hula, that's fine by me if it's OK with the people who elected him. But if he sobers up and secretly sticks $10 million in the federal budget to build a memorial to goat ropers, part of that is my money and I want a say on it. Conservatives talk about federal waste and bloated government. Democrats rail about no money to help those who need it most. But these secret appropriations called earmarks are where the money goes, and we'll never get the government back on track until Congress gets tough on itself and stops them. Stopping these free trips won't cure the whole thing, but it is a start. It's time we got on with it."