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Congressional Ethics

January 15, 2017

The new Republican dominated Congress is off and running, albeit somewhat haltingly, in anticipation of a relatively unfettered pathway to accomplish its long-awaited ultra-conservative agenda once Donald Trump is sworn in as President. An early attempt to scuttle an independent ethics office created to investigate alleged improprieties by members of Congress was recently nipped in the bud, at least for now. Some tweets by President-Elect Trump questioning the timing of the move – made by the House GOP caucus by secret ballot at the last minute – helped scuttle it. More importantly, public outrage at the audacity of the group of politicians seeking to give themselves more latitude in their professional conduct by removing one of the few remaining vestiges of public accountability caused them to reconsider their move and reverse course – for now.

That the same members of our elected legislative bodies who had spent most of the last eight years holding endless investigations of perceived wrongdoing on the part of various Obama Administration officials would deign to consider themselves to be beyond reproach when it comes to their own dealings with lobbyists, campaign donors and the like is hypocritical at best. Spending millions of taxpayer dollars and countless work hours trying to shine a light when there was no there there with regard to Benghazi, email servers and other subjects that led to no findings resulting in forced resignations or criminal indictments was somehow excusable for these people as part of doing their jobs overseeing the executive branch. Having a nonpartisan group shining a light on potentially shady dealings by members of Congress was unacceptable to them. In what convoluted does this make sense, let alone fit anyone’s definition of fairness?

The American people, who voted to elect members of Congress and pay for the results of their work (or lack thereof) with their taxes, deserve to know when and if they are not getting their money’s worth or are being misrepresented by those same individuals. Accountability of all levels of our government is essential. Just because the Republicans will soon have control of both Houses of Congress and the Executive branch (with the Judiciary soon to follow, once the Supreme Court vacancy and over 100 other judicial posts are filled), does not mean they have carte blanche to rule as they see fit. The outcry at their attempted escape from oversight proves that we do have limits beyond which we won’t let them push in performing their duties.

Donald Trump knew which way the wind was blowing on this move, and speaking out against it was an easy win for him, but his response was weak, indicating that he very well might welcome the gambit at a later date. The way Congress has been trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act leaves little doubt that they intend to revisit the issue in the future. GOP Congressional leadership wasn’t all that keen on doing this to begin with, due to the optics and hypocrisy inherent to it. They have bigger fish to fry and hope to get some major work done (or undone, depending on your perspective) as quickly as possible.

In addition to confirming the mostly ill-suited cabinet nominees, they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which they have been trying to accomplish since before it was even passed. The fact that they still don’t have a replacement plan to propose this many years since the law was passed indicates fairly convincingly that they don’t really care how the repeal will affect us. More people are beginning to become informed of what they stand to lose if the law is just summarily scrapped. Millions of Trump voters stand to lose health insurance coverage if replacement takes too long after repeal. They have passed legislation to allow the Senate to repeal the Act with a simple majority, possibly avoiding a filibuster, but even that is not assured if the public is sufficiently outraged by what action is being threatened.

To try to mitigate any possible negative public reaction to deleterious impacts of any repeal legislation, efforts are being made to order the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) from doing its job of telling the American people exactly how such legislation is likely to impact the budget. Will the alleged repeal of this costly law be more expensive than keeping it would be? If not, why keep this secret from us? Try as they might, this information will still get out. Despite Republican claims to the contrary, real journalism does still exist in this country. Freedom of the Press does still exist as a Constitutional Right, corrupted as it may be by the influence of big money and the over-classification of information by the government. People will notice if folks start dying due to a health care system that no longer works as well as it did a short time ago.

Many other aspects of the far right agenda that threatens the American way of life are also built on a house of cards that assumes that an acceptable form of governing may involve manipulating people by misinforming them, preventing them from voting and lying to them by saying they are making their lives better while the only tangible results remain a very obvious redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top of the economic ladder. This was true during the most recent recovery, but threatens to accelerate almost beyond belief if Trump, Ryan, McConnell and the various hardcore conservative Governors and state legislatures get their way. This is true as well concerning social issues on which real gains were achieved under the Obama Administration, such as LGBTQ rights, marriage equality and the reproductive rights improvements contained in the ACA.

The rightwing extremists who vaulted Trump to the Presidency and like-minded politicians to positions of power throughout the country may have manipulated the political process in this country and the states to gain political advantage that makes effective resistance difficult, but they do not have a mandate to turn this country into an authoritarian state by forcing their vision of an oligarchic society down the throats of the majority of people who voted against them. Trump may have “won” the election, but millions more people voted against him than for him. His job is to serve the people by upholding and defending the Constitution, just like all the others sworn into their elected offices. Using technological advances to tighten the government’s grip over dissent, while simultaneously making its use for informing people of what that government and its officials are doing to them rather than for or with them illegal, runs contrary to every tradition of democratic governance which has been drilled into our skulls since childhood.

It is small wonder that Trump becomes so defensive when a political and cultural icon like John Lewis publicly questions the legitimacy of his ascending to the Oval Office and the majority party in Congress seeks to escape as much as possible the sort of public scrutiny that may doom them to defeat in future elections. But what they intend to do, based on what they campaigned for prior to the 2016 elections, and the conduct of those previously in control of too many of our states, is neither in the interests of most of the American people nor in their wishes as expressed by most polls. Lying propaganda, distortion and blatant misrepresentation of intentions on the part of elected office holders is not a legitimate form of government. Elections alone are not proof of fitness to serve or to lead. If Congress, the President and the rest of our elected and appointed officials cannot conduct themselves in a manner which stands up to public scrutiny, they must be held accountable – either by the judicial system or by the electorate at the earliest opportunity. We deserve better from our government than to be misled and misrepresented into a future world and society where most of us are more miserable than previous generations in order that a small minority may prosper. Stop trying to hide and be honest with us. Treat us as the equals our founding documents professed us to be.

Further Suggested Readings:

With No Warning, House Republicans Vote to Gut Independent Ethics Office

Ethics Watchdog Wants to Probe Trump’s HHS Nominee for Stock Trading

Republicans Haven’t Canceled Their Ethics Office Hit Job, Just Delayed It

Draining The Swamp Republican Style

CNN anchor left speechless after GOP lawmaker claims gutting ethics panel is ‘draining the swamp’

‘Era of epic corruption’: Internet eviscerates House Republicans for killing ethics committee

Trump Does Something Right– Causes Reverse of GOP Gutting of House Ethics Panel

House Republicans Dive into the Swamp

Let’s Remain Wary Of A Congress That Wants To Get Rid Of Ethical Oversight

Trump and the Case of Congressional Ethics

GOP Prohibits CBO From Reporting How Much ACA Repeal Blows Up the Deficit

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2 Comments
  1. I enjoy your style of writing immensely. You clearly spell out the facts while showing the people the Constitution represents everyone. The only flaw in our democracies happens when the people stop paying attention, and do nothing, rather than work to make the situation better.

    Liked by 1 person

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