The challenge for Republicans, who are ahead in polls for the November election, is to promise voters they won't repeat their mistakes of the recent past. That can be like walking into a town gripped by a communicable disease and vowing not to get it. Properly inoculated, Republicans can resist Potomac Fever. The question is how.
Term limits seems the best medicine, but unless Democrats agree to limit their terms, Republicans would rightly see this as unilateral surrender. Controlling the flow of money and the influence of lobbyists would be another form of protection and the House and Senate ethics committees have tried that to some extent, but the unethical always find a way to circumvent rules.
All trips underwritten by corporations and lobbyists should be banned. Any member who wishes to travel should seek authorization from an oversight committee specifically designated to approve such things. This would include travel on military jets, which cost more than commercial airlines. Taxpayers should only pay for travel that is necessary and relevant to the member's job. Spouses should travel at their own expense. All travel expenses, along with the purpose of the trip and the member's schedule, should be posted on a special web page for public viewing. Last May, the House tightened its travel rules, but not enough. Rules for Senate travel resemble the old and looser House rules.
If Republicans are to benefit from Rangel's alleged ethics violations, they must prove they are serious about cleaning up their own House (and Senate). "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone." That admonition doesn't give Republicans permission at the moment to pick up even a pebble.
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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