The Heavy Weight of Scandal

Rich Galen

3/12/2010 11:06:32 AM - Rich Galen

Republicans were fired from their control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the election of 2006 for a number of reasons. Spending too much generally was one of them. Bloating appropriations bills with "earmarks" to reward friends and supporters was another. Iraq was certainly a major contributing factor.

But, what weighed House Republicans down like an anchor around their collective necks was: Scandal. Duke Cunningham's written menu of acceptable bribe amounts. Jack Abramoff buying Members and staff like heads of romaine lettuce at Whole Foods. And the father of all the scandals, Mark Foley.

I won't regurgitate the whole sordid Foley story here but it involved the Florida Republican having inappropriate text-message conversations with a 16-year-old male page; the House Republican Leadership knowing about it; and nothing being done.

Sean Hannity FREE

The implication was that Speaker's office thought it was more important to protect the GOP brand than to protect a teenaged page from the predations of a Member of the House.

Foley became the shorthand for everything voters disliked - hated - about Republicans in the House. Cunningham trading votes for furniture seemed odd. Other Members trading votes for golfing trips just seemed stupid. Preying on a child - that, they understood. Protecting the predator - that, was punishable by death at the ballot box.

It is important to remember what that felt like, four long years ago, because House Democrats find themselves in much the same position.

The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is one of the most powerful people on the planet. He writes the tax laws. A semicolon in the tax code can save (or cost) a multinational corporation tens of millions of dollars every year. For 100 years the tax code has been used to nudge, or force, Americans into a particular behavior. Want people to smoke less? Tax cigarettes more. Want people to buy houses? Make interest on mortgages deductible. And so on.

Charles Rangel had to give up the chairmanship of Ways and Means but not before Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended him, then waffled, then had to watch as the Committee Members tossed out the guy next in line and voted for Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich)to head the Committee.

Rangel is not out of the woods. The Ethics Committee is still looking a charges of tax evasion, influence peddling, and misuse of rent-controlled apartments in New York City.

The big deal this past week was the Eric Massa mess. The Ethics Committee closed its investigation into what Massa did, said, or tried to do and with whom because he resigned and they no longer have jurisdiction over him.

House Republicans, though, forced a vote on a resolution to force the Ethics Committee to decide whether it should reopen the case to look at what members of the Democratic House Leadership knew and when they knew it.

Things have gotten so bad that one of the principal advisors to the Obama Presidential campaign, Steve Hildebrand, went to the White House to tell Obama's senior advisor, David Axelrod that "there is a real shot we [Democrats] are going to get slaughtered in elections this fall if we aren't leading the efforts to reform Washington."

In one of those surreal Washington moments documented by CNN's Ed Henry, Hildebrand went to the "White House on Wednesday for a quiet meeting with … Axelrod, to express a fear that Republicans are seizing the high ground on cleaning up Washington."

It is surreal because only in Washington would someone go to the WH for a "quiet meeting" and do an interview with CNN (or Fox or anyone else) before hand. I guess a "noisy meeting" would have included dressing up like a snowman and holding a sign while marching back and forth in front of the White House in Lafayette Park.

It is too early for Republican Leader John Boehner to start measuring for drapes in the Speaker's suite; but I might start thinking about buying options on cardboard boxes for all those Democratic Committee and Subcommittee chairs and their thousands of staff members who may have to pack up and make way for their incoming Republican replacements.

Democrats are swimming upstream and scandal is a heavy, heavy weight to bear.