The dome of the Capitol building will be gleaming as the sun rises over Washington today. The new Democrat-controlled Congress has completed an historic week, completing legislation in the Senate and the House that will usher in a new era of openness, honesty and fairness in how the nation's business is conducted.
Are you laughing yet? At least grinning? You should be.
Yes, indeed our hard working legislators have gotten a lot of business done in these early days of the 110th Congress. The Senate has passed The Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007. Ethics reform _ or so called. And the House, under the leadership of our first woman Speaker, has passed the six bills targeted for its first 100 hours.
We should recall the conventional wisdom that when politicians arrive on the scene to save the day, hold onto your wallet.
Consider ethics reform.
If there is a defining theme to how the Congress approaches ethics, it would be "I'm OK; you're the problem." "You" in this case is us _ the citizens and taxpayers of this free country whom our members of Congress are sworn to serve. How is it that a senator or congressman becomes more ethical by passing a law that says that someone else, a private citizen, can't buy them lunch or take them on a trip?
Are we to understand that 535 United States senators and congressmen to whom we give oversight of a $3 trillion federal budget have told us they cannot be left to their own resources to determine if an offer to lunch or a trip is inappropriate?
Consider the fact that I wield a little power by the fact that I write a newspaper column that, in a good week, gets in front of millions of readers. This can be considered influence.
It is not unknown that someone with a particular ax to grind might ask me to write about it. They might even offer to buy me lunch in a fancy Washington restaurant to tell me the story. If it is a particularly big deal, they might even offer to fly me somewhere to show me what is going on.
However, for me, my own moral compass aside, my reputation and integrity are my most important assets. Why would I put these on the line for a lunch or a trip?
In fact, when it became clear that one particular columnist had been getting paid by lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose shenanigans got this current ethics rage in Washington started, he was fired by the firm that syndicated his column and by the think tank with which he was affiliated.
Personal integrity and markets work in journalism. We don't have to have laws that say you can't buy a columnist lunch or take them on a trip. They can figure out for themselves what is useful and what is inappropriate.