ETHICS CHANGES -- (House of Representatives - April 26, 2005)
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the order of the House of January 4, 2005, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pallone) is recognized during morning hour debates for 5 minutes.
Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, since the beginning of the year, the House has been conducting its business without an organized Committee on Standards of Official Conduct in place to investigate possible unethical behavior by Members of Congress. Republicans have tried to blame Democrats on the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct for this standoff, but the fact is they have nobody to blame but themselves.
At the beginning of this year, the Republican leadership went ahead and changed the way the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct does its business. In the past, whenever ethics changes were being considered, they were addressed in a bipartisan fashion, with both Democrats and Republicans at the table. That is the only way ethics reform can honestly be addressed, but the Republican leadership ignored that protocol and strong-armed enough of its Members into passing new and weakened ethics rules.
The American people need to understand that these new rules will allow either party, Democrat or Republican, to protect its own Members. Under the new Republican rules, if the majority of the committee cannot determine whether or not an investigation should proceed, after 45 days of receiving a complaint, the complaint would simply be dropped. No action would take place.
Since the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is made up of five Members from each party, either side could prevent an ethics investigation from moving forward against one of its Members. Now, this is not the way the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is supposed to work. Under the old bipartisan rules, if the committee could not come to an agreement on how to proceed after 45 days, an investigative subcommittee was created.
The weakening of the ethics rules by House Republicans did not fool editorial writers, both liberal and conservative, who follow House proceedings closely; and I just wanted to give some examples.
The conservative Chicago Tribune recently said, How do House Republicans respond to ethical lapses? By trying to bury them.
The Hartford Courant concluded, "The committee has been careening toward ethical oblivion in recent years, as the majority Republicans have relaxed the standards, eased up on investigations and created trapdoors through which alleged transgressors could escape."
The Republican leadership did not stop at just weakening the ethics rules, the Republican leadership also purged three Republican Members of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, three Members who were not in the pockets of the leadership.
After losing his chairmanship of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, the gentleman from Colorado (Mr. Hefley) told The Washington Post that there is "a bad perception out there that there was a purge in the committee and that people were put in that would protect our side of the aisle better than I did. Nobody should be there to protect anybody. They should be there to protect the integrity of the institution."
Mr. Speaker, congressional Republicans should listen to their former ethics chairman, the gentleman from Colorado (Mr. Hefley). The integrity of the House of Representatives is much more important than any one Member.
These actions by the Republican majority really make one wonder why the changes are necessary now. It seems clear to me that the Republican leadership went to all of this trouble to protect one of its leaders. Last month the Wall Street Journal, which has a conservative editorial page, charged there is an "odor," an "unsavory whiff" at the very highest reaches of this House. Every single day, it seems, more revelations come out about questionable actions by a member of the Republican leadership. These daily revelations should concern every Member of the institution.
My Democrat colleagues and I realize the integrity of the House is at stake. We cannot allow weakened ethics rules to move forward to protect anyone, and it is critical that the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct be allowed to do its job and that is impossible under the new Republican rules.
Mr. Speaker, as the majority leader, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. DeLay) said back in November 1995, "The time has come that the American people know exactly what their representatives are doing here in Washington, are they feeding at the public trough, taking lobbyist-paid vacations, getting wined and dined by special interest groups, or are they working hard to represent their constituents? The American people have a right to know." That was the majority leader, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. DeLay), in his own words 10 years ago.
Let me say, the majority leader was right, the American people deserve answers and they will not get those answers under the weakened Republican ethics rules. That is why Democrats are fighting so hard to have the old rules restored. If the majority leader believes his comments from 10 years ago, I would think he would join us in our fight.