Hey, fluffy newspaper editorial writers, you want Republicans and Democrats to "stop fighting" and "get something done," correct? Well, good news: the Congressional Black Caucus and Republicans might team up to kill the congressional ethics office! America is restored.
The Congressional Black Caucus — all Democrats — is rather pissed that Charlie Rangel was censured yesterday instead of merely "reprimanded," as if the minuscule difference in strongly worded letter severity between the two practically matters at all, especially to a member who will never be voted out of office. But congress-critters do take their symbolic tribal rituals quite seriously, and the spectacle of Rangel's brisk wrist-slap yesterday was simply too much for many CBC members to endure.
But Rangel's "harsh" punishment, however, brought back something that's been nagging CBC members for the past couple of years: That an unusually large percentage of the Office of Congressional Ethics' probes since House Democrats created it in 2008 — to Republican objections — have targeted black lawmakers. At one point last year, all seven active investigations were for black legislators. CBC members felt unfairly targeted. Wouldn't you?
So now the CBC might find a rare, mutual cause with Republicans, who obviously want to destroy the ethics office now that they're assuming power.
Back in the spring, a group of twenty CBC members signed onto a resolution to rein in the OCE and curtail its authority to make investigations public, arguing that the office was destroying political reputations and victimizing black lawmakers. But soon they may have the chance to do more than just neuter the OCE. Having vocally opposed the creation of the panel, incoming House Speaker John Boehner and other top Republicans are quietly discussing ways to kill the OCE when it comes up for mandatory reauthorization next year-and it looks like at least a handful of Democrats could be on board.
Among them are CBC member Rep. William Lacy Clay of Missouri, who told Mother Jones: "If the decision were up to me, I would not reauthorize it-it's so unprecedented and untraditional in the history of this institution. It's duplicitous, it's a waste of taxpayer money...I don't see a need for it." When asked whether simply reforming the office would suffice, Clay quashed the notion: "There should be no place for it here in this institution."
What a lovely chance for bipartisan agreement: Killing off those measly ethics investigators who keep probing you, because it's "waste of taxpayer money." Yes, that's why.
But still, it could be a good idea coming from this burgeoning ad-hoc diversity coalition. Why launch all of these multi-year probes if the bad ones only result in Nancy Pelosi saying mean things to you for 20 seconds on the House floor, during a lame-duck session, after which your colleagues give you a standing ovation for some reason? If the case looks like it's headed towards "expulsion" — the only actual real penalty, last used in 2002 — then investigate it. Or create a second actual real penalty, like forcing the guilty parties to slowly take a lap around the House chamber while colleagues kick 'em in the butt. Or something. Basically, any office whose mission is to produce anti-climaxes shouldn't have guaranteed life.
[Image of Congressional Black Caucus leaders via AP]