Democrats turn a blind eye to rule breakers in their own ranks

Posted: May 22, 2007 9:59 PM
Democrats turn a blind eye to rule breakers in their own ranks

Tuesday night House Democrats refused to reprimand Rep. John Murtha (D.-Pa.) for threatening a Republican colleague in a manner that violates newly installed, Democrat-crafted ethics rules.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R.-Mich.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, alleges after he tried to strip a $23 million earmark that Murtha inserted into an intelligence spending bill for his district, Murtha lashed out.

Rogers claims that Murtha shouted the following threat: “I hope you don't have any earmarks in the defense appropriation bill because they are gone and you will not get any earmarks now and forever.”

Rogers reiterated this in his May 21 floor statement that introduced a resolution that formally reprimands Murtha. Rogers said that his response was to shout back at the Pennsylvania congressman: “This is not the way we do things here and is that supposed to make me afraid of you?”

As Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Murtha is a key decision maker in determining which districts will receive federal defense dollars. Murtha does not deny saying he would withhold federal dollars from Rogers for voting against his earmark.

Unfortunately for Murtha, the code of conduct package his close friend Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) ushered in when she took over the House contains a two-line provision that prohibits exactly the kind of threat Murtha made to Rogers. Rule 16 of the House’s new Official Code of Conduct states no members may condition any earmark on any vote cast by another member.

After the incident, Murtha issued a brief statement that only said, "The committee and staff give every Democrat and Republican the same consideration. We have extensive hearings and every request is given careful consideration. We will continue to do just that.”

The House voted 219-189 against Rogers’s resolution on Tuesday evening.

Two Democrats, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) and Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.) crossed party lines to vote in favor of the reprimand. Rep. Tim Murphy (Pa.) was the only Republican to support to tabling the resolution.

Murtha’s disputed earmark funds the National Drug Intelligence Center located in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Last year, the House Government Reform Committee said the center should be shut down and, in his proposed budget, President Bush designated $16 million to close it. Murtha, however, used his powerful position on the Appropriations Committee to secure funding for the NDIC.

To stymie the project, Rogers tried to attach an amendment to the intelligence appropriations bill that would require the Justice Department’s inspector general to audit the Johnstown-based NDIC. His amendment was turned away by the Rules Committee. Then, Rogers got a motion accepted to cut the funding for the project outright.

Instead of routing the $23 million to Murtha’s district, Rogers proposed redirecting it to fund human intelligence programs. Rogers’s amendment to do this was defeated 181-241, largely on party lines.

Piling onto Murtha’s ethical troubles is Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R.-Mich.), ranking member of the Intelligence Committee. Hoekstra charges that even the way Murtha inserted the NDIC earmark into the intelligence bill violated House rules. According to Hoekstra, Murtha sent in his earmark certification letter for the NDIC five weeks after the committee’s deadline and did not send a proper copy to Hoekstra’s office.

Rule 17 of the new Code of Conduct requires that all earmarks be disclosed in writing to the chairman and ranking member of the governing committee.

On May 10, Hoekstra complained on the House floor that “The process that was used for the earmarks on this bill did not follow all of the rules that we had agreed up in the committee and perhaps inconsistent with the rules of the House.”

The House resolution voted on May 22 did not contain any references to this ethics violation.

Speaker Pelosi defended Murtha on the May 20 edition of ABC’s This Week. “Congressman Murtha enjoys an excellent reputation in the Congress on both sides of the aisle," she said. "He writes the defense appropriation bill in a bipartisan way each year and with the complete involvement of the Republicans as to who gets what on the Republican side.”

Murtha was Pelosi’s first pick to become Majority Leader after Democrats won the midterm election, but Rep. Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.) was elected to the post over Murtha.

Hoyer was not as supportive as Pelosi in a session with reporters yesterday morning. “Mr. Murtha will have to determine what he believes will be appropriate,” Hoyer said. “There has been an assertion made and that remains to be seen if [Murtha] said what is alleged he said. I’ve said all along the Ethics Committee needs to take this into consideration.”

When asked to compare Murtha’s behavior to the way former Majority Leader Tom Delay (R.-Tex.) used financial incentives to push reluctant Republicans into voting for the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, Hoyer said, “I’ve said all on this subject that I’m going to say.”

Murtha also recently browbeat Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R.-Kans.), an Intelligence Committee member who also sits on appropriations subcommittee Murtha chairs, for opposing the NDIC earmark in a private appropriations vote. According to The Hill, Murtha "vented his anger against Tiahrt for voting last Wednesday to kill the center in Johnstown, Pa., by unleashing a loud, finger-jabbing, spittle-spraying piece of his mind.”

This outburst was captured by CSPAN cameras on the House floor and was later aired as part of a segment on Fox News. You can access the video here.

In a May 21 op-ed, Rogers, a former FBI special agent, likened Murtha’s actions to a character on the HBO dramatic series about a mob family. After explaining how Murtha threatened him, Rogers wrote, “The House floor is not the place for an episode of The Sopranos and protecting the public’s tax dollars is a basic duty of all Members of Congress.”