Keeping an eye on Congressional ethics

In an era when the population has shown its ability to foist its discontent on political leadership, regardless of how actions match words, the word “ethics” might seem a lost piece of terminology.

Except it shouldn’t be.

And that’s why the about-face on what to do with the Office of Congressional Ethics was crucial, in terms of what the panel should represent and what the reversal represents.

The 123rd Congress, in one of its first decisions, was planning to place the independent ethics office under the control of a House committee. It shouldn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that just the appearance of Congressional control over a body whose purpose is to investigate the ethical conduct of members of Congress was flat-headed. The removal of power from the panel would have become obvious.

Republicans made their decision to gut the panel a week ago, in a private meeting. Like many moves in government, when the light of day shone on the decision, the furor began, and not just from Democrats.

It wasn’t just a matter of party leaders being defied in the GOP or whining from the minority party.

Instead, there were a couple of factors, led by President-elect Trump getting involved and saying the move was wrong. He has, after all, promised to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington. Gutting an ethics investigator would certainly have kept the swamp a little fuller.

Second, public outcry had some effect. The GOP may be in power and the populist movement may have overturned the apple cart, but at the end of the day, political leaders in the United States still need to be accountable to their constituents, ballot-box revolutions notwithstanding.

The whole affair will be couched two ways. Either the people are in charge and they sent a message through the new president that real ethics are required, or politicians as politicians will always be, if the actual free election process is to continue in the United States, responsive at times to the voters.

There are reforms needed in the office, and some say the provision of the revisions that requires any uncovering of criminal matters to go to the House Ethics Committee is a kind of declawing of the independent office anyway.

Still we think the incident points to Trump being somewhat less than the monster that he manages to wear as a mask through his Twitter feed and offhand remarks, though his opponents probably won’t admit to that yet, if ever.

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