Paul Jacob

How did Rangel respond? “Clearly the wording exonerates me,” he said. Rangel’s thin reed is the fact that the ethics committee accepted his claim that he was unaware of what the committee determined he should have been aware, namely the illegal corporate funding of his trip, and thus the committee only admonished him rather than taking more serious action. Ignorance is shaping up to be a very effective defense for Mr. Rangel.

Asked by reporters if he would resign his chairmanship, Rangel ever-so-contritely replied, “Why don’t you ask me am I going to stay chairman of the committee in light of the fact that we’re expecting heavy snow in New York?”

I’ll bet you’re not even surprised that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is standing behind Rangel’s continued rule — regardless of his growing list of unethical and even illegal actions.

Last week, the House ethics committee released a 305-page report on its investigation into seven congressmen — Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), James Moran (D-Va.), Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), Bill Young (R-Fla.), and the late John Murtha (D-Pa.) — suspected of trading earmarks for campaign contributions. In 2008, these congressmen provided various interests $112 million worth of federal funding and received over $350,000 back in campaign contributions.

But the report exonerated “the Earmark 7,” determining that legislators are absolutely free to raise money from interests to which they are shoveling gobs of our tax dollars. As the report stated, “Simply because a member sponsors an earmark for an entity that also happens to be a campaign contributor does not, on these two facts alone, support a claim that a member’s actions are being influenced by campaign contributions.”

Aren’t you glad they cleared that up?

Congressmen have always been allowed to rake in campaign contributions from the industries and unions they directly regulate. Now it’s been made clear that congressmen can legally and ethically (according to the congressional version of ethics) hand-deliver our tax dollars to those who will or have already supplied them campaign contributions.

After all, that’s the whole point of earmarks.

Some will call for more regulation of congressional behavior, or demand stepped-up enforcement by the ethics committees. They miss the point. Why pass new regulations and expect them to be more zealously obeyed than the old regulations that have been so cavalierly ignored? Why expect the foxes guarding our coop (co-op) to behave any differently in the future than they have in the past?

No, what’s needed is more direct. And it’s as simple as two little words: term limits.

Don’t allow politicians in Congress to entrench themselves in office. Keep a consistent flow of new blood into the system. Then, maybe Congress could find the courage to flat-out abolish earmarks. And create more ethical standards across the board, too.

Maybe with term limits Congress would begin to represent the American people, instead of only representing themselves.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.