There are two deeply rooted sources of corruption in Washington. One is that many members of Congress believe that they would be making much more than their $160,000-a-year salaries if they were in some other line of work. This sense is compounded when they watch their former 30-year-old aides go to work on K Street for $300,000 a year. This is how someone like Tom DeLay — otherwise a conviction politician — justifies playing the best golf courses in the world on someone else's dime and getting special interests to funnel easy money to his wife.
It will be a sign that Congress has learned something if it bans all privately funded travel. If a trip is truly educational and necessary, the public should fund it; if, on the other hand, a member of Congress wants to enjoy fine resorts, he should quit, practice law (or whatever), and earn the income to support his desired lifestyle.
The other problem is that Washington makes obscure decisions that enrich small groups of people. Most everyone in Washington supports making these decisions because it increases his or her power. But if Congress really wants to lessen the malign influence of lobbyists, it should reform the inherently corruptible process whereby the Interior Department recognizes new Native American tribes so they can mint money by opening casinos, and end the practice of "earmarking" federal dollars for local and special-interest projects. It's no accident that Abramoff saw the business potential in both of these processes.
Of course, making these sort of changes would be painful. That's why it is tempting for Republicans to look for a John McCain instead.
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