Cal  Thomas

Given what members of Congress get away with these days, it takes a lot to break House ethics rules. But that's what a House ethics subcommittee has accused 20-term Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) of doing. Rangel might have avoided a trial had he admitted to any of the charges against him, but after 40 years in Congress, it's as if he sees himself as invincible. Rangel will face a jury of his congressional peers, which, to some, might look a lot like organized crime members trying one of their own.

According to the Washington Post, ethics inquiries are focused on Rangel's "failure to declare $239,000 to $831,000 in assets on his disclosure forms, and on his effort to raise money for a private center named after himself at City College of New York using his congressional letterhead." Voters might consider these small potatoes compared to running up the national debt into the trillions of dollars, but the public will have its say on that larger question in November.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to stop unethical behavior if Democrats were given a majority. They were and she didn't. She said she would "drain the swamp." Instead, the swamp increasingly resembles a hot tub.

Again, it's not what's unethical, but apparently what some members consider ethical that should anger taxpayers. For example, are you OK with House members, over a nine-month period between late 2009 and early 2010, spending $604,000 for bottled water? The purchase is among a long list of questionable expenditures discovered in an audit by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation. Taxpayers might ask why thirsty House members don't drink from the faucet like most people in Washington, D.C. If members think tap water doesn't meet their standards, they can buy cheap filters.

Some Republicans are salivating over Democratic spending and ethical lapses, but before they run on fiscal restraint and personal morality, they should remember such former and current colleagues named DeLay, Cunningham, Ney, Foley, Lewis, Burns, Stevens, Craig, Vitter, Miller and Renzi. These -- and others -- were tainted by scandal while Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. Republicans had promised to clean up the "corruption" from 40 years of House control by the Democrats. Instead, many jumped into the hot tub.

There is an old disease in Washington called Potomac Fever. It does not discriminate between parties. When voters toss out one infected party and replace it with another that promises not to acquire the disease, the new guys also catch it.

Cal Thomas

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Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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