Congress starts on wrong foot
Republicans of the new 115th Congress were right in killing a plan to effectively strip the independent Office of Congressional Ethics of its power and put it under lawmakers’ control.
It’s hard to fathom how the lawmakers responsible for the proposal could have been so out of touch with the possibility of strong negative fallout against the GOP, as well as for individual members of Congress.
Once out in the open, the situation became a public relations nightmare — a nightmare that required immediate damage control.
Thus, the move, which began in secret last Monday, was retracted by Republicans on Tuesday without opposition.
Nevertheless, the proposed move could have unwanted ramifications for the GOP, even up to the next congressional elections in 2018.
Democrats aren’t likely to allow the move to be forgotten.
The main lesson to be learned from last week’s behind-the-scenes action is that Congress should do its work within the view of the public — and that’s especially so when something so potentially controversial and embarrassing is on the table for consideration.
Meanwhile, there no doubt are many Americans who want to know the names of all of the lawmakers responsible for the ethics office plan.
Associated Press reports on Jan. 3 said the ethics change was pushed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., but Goodlatte could not have advanced the idea by himself.
Mirror reporter Ryan Brown, in an article on Thursday, referred to media accounts suggesting that lower-ranking Republicans who have long questioned the ethics office were responsible.
The Associated Press also went further, casting the blame on GOP lawmakers “who’ve felt unfairly targeted by the ethics office,” even willing to defy their own leaders with their initial vote.
Commendably, amid the public outcry over Monday’s move, President-elect Donald Trump also weighed in, questioned the idea’s timing.
All considered, what could have been a positive start for the new Congress evolved instead into a proverbial train wreck.
Republicans want their control of the legislative and executive branches of the government for the first time in a decade to be productive, not be sidetracked by divisive — some would say stupid — decisions eroding the GOP’s good intentions and agendas.
The Office of Government Ethics was created in 2008 during the administration of President George W. Bush to investigate allegations of misconduct by lawmakers after several bribery and corruption scandals that resulted in some members of Congress going to prison.
The plan to gut the ethics office and rename it would have put it under the authority of the GOP-controlled Ethics Committee made up of representatives.
That’s not to suggest that the representatives on the committee would have put partisanship above ethical conduct. However, the American people should not have grounds to harbor doubts about whether their congressional representatives are carrying out their duties ethically, honestly and responsibly.
Weakening of the ethics-policing function could have had that unwanted result.
Any unlikely move of reviving what was killed should be accorded the same fate without delay.