Abercrombie flatly rejected the notion that the panel will elevate the process of investigating ethics violations. “This is an invitation to ideological mischief and character assassination,” he said. “We cringe before our critics and turn over our obligations to govern ourselves to others.”
Another noteworthy feature of the new panel is that it lacks subpoena power. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. -- who, the Post points out, fought for tougher ethics rules when Republicans controlled Congress -- thinks that ethics investigations could, ironically, become harder to pursue if they’re handled by a body without subpoena powers. It would have forward investigations to … the House Ethics Committee. So what’s changed, really?
Rep. Capuano claims that the panel “brings a level of independence to the process because no current members of Congress can serve on the panel.” But who’s going to follow up on that process, and complete those investigations? Current members of Congress, that’s who. They’re just adding more steps to the same old process.
Worse, though, is the way the panel works.
It’s overseen by six board members -- private citizens who are appointed by congressional leaders. Three are appointed by Democrats; three by Republicans. Guess how many “yes” votes it takes to initiate an investigation? Two. Whatever happened to majority rule, which our system of government is founded on, for Pete’s sake? Now guess how many “yes” votes it takes to move a proposed investigation forward. Three. So investigations can still carry a partisan taint, if all three members of one party decide to gang up and push through a case against a member or members from the other party.
A better solution would be to make the current committee more transparent and responsive. A Republican counterproposal would have required the committee to refer all matters not resolved within 90 days to the FBI and the Justice Department. “Let’s be clear,” House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio said. “If there is wrongdoing, the ethics committee should do its job ... or get out of the way for law enforcement.
Fortunately, it looks as if the Senate has no intention of creating its own version of the new panel. Ethics Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and the panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, released a statement after the House vote: “The Senate voted overwhelmingly to reject proposals to create an outside investigative body because we have confidence in our ethics process.
Sorry, Congress. Doesn’t look like that approval rating will be rising any time soon.