Thursday, January 05, 2006

Republicans: We Have Too Much Power

Republicans run everything in Washinton. They have large majorities in the House and Senate, they have the presidency, they have a majority of appointees on the Supreme Court (7-2).

Currently Republicans in Washington have absolute power.

For years, fans of good government have noted the lack of oversight and accountability in Washington.

A Republican Congress has been loathe to hold a Republican president accountable. There have been few hearings into executive misbehavior (like the CIA leak case), few investigations into executive mistakes (like the now-acknowledged "bad pre-war intel"), or few complaints about executive cronyism ("Heckuva job, Brownie" or any of Bush's bad recess appointments like the ones he just shoved through this week.)

The House Ethics Committee hasn't done any substantial investigatory work in a couple of years. Even when Senate or House committees looked into wrongdoing, they have always been GOP led "whitewash jobs," like Senator Pat Roberts' (R-Ka) Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the bad pre-war intel which exonerated the White House from any criticism while tarring the CIA with all of the blame.

In fact, if it weren't for some prosecutors in the Justice Department and a few non-partisan professionals like former deputy Attorney General James Comey and CIA Leak Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald looking into wrongdoing in D.C., there would be no oversight or accountability in Washington at all.

But now that the Jack Abramoff scandal is threatening to take down 20 or more political figures in Washington, most of whom will be Republicans, the GOP is suddenly talking about oversight and accountabilty.

Gee, imagine that!

Here's the story from the Washington Post:

Republican Party officials said yesterday that President Bush will give up $6,000 in campaign contributions connected to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, joining an expansive list of politicians who have shed more than half a million dollars in tainted campaign cash.

The announcement came as Abramoff pleaded guilty in a second criminal case, acknowledging that he conspired to defraud lenders in the purchase of a fleet of Florida casino boats five years ago. The court appearance in Miami came a day after Abramoff pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Washington to defrauding Indian tribe clients of millions of dollars, conspiring to bribe members of Congress and evading taxes.

Under plea agreements negotiated in the two federal cases, the once-powerful lobbyist promised to provide evidence and testimony in a wide-ranging Justice Department investigation of the lobbying of Congress and of federal agencies.

Fearful of the adverse political fallout from the expanding corruption investigation, Republicans in both houses of Congress moved forward with face-saving legislation to tighten lobbying regulations and to discourage dealings between lawmakers and influence-peddlers.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called again for a limit on "pork-barrel" projects in annual spending bills, which Abramoff himself has called "favor factories."


Republican leaders in Washington hope the legislative moves and campaign refunds will insulate their party as Abramoff begins cooperating with one of the largest congressional corruption investigations in decades.

"The problem is that power corrupts, and we simply have too much of it," Flake said.

But it is not clear that simply shedding Abramoff's cash will get lawmakers out of the lobbyists' shadow. According to Abramoff's guilty plea, the contributions were aimed at winning specific favors, such as torpedoing legislation or securing federal contracts.

"You just can't give the money back and forget about what the money was for," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

With that in mind, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) asked Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) just before Thanksgiving to draft a package of lobbying restrictions, according to Robert L. Traynham II, a Santorum spokesman. That effort will run parallel to a push from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has drafted his own lobbying legislation. McCain's partner in an earlier campaign finance effort, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), also has a proposal.

"I will be working with colleagues this session to examine and act on any necessary changes to improve transparency and accountability for our body when it comes to lobbying," Frist said in a statement yesterday. "Some members have already made recommendations to me, or introduced legislation. I look forward to working to secure the continued integrity of the Senate."

In the House, a group of rank-and-file members approached Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) last year to press him on the dangers that Abramoff presented. Out of those meetings, Rogers, a former FBI agent who had focused on public corruption in Chicago, began work on a House lobbying measure, according to a Rogers aide.

The aide would offer no details, but he said the proposal is likely to tighten the rules on the public disclosure of lobbying contacts and to lengthen the time former lawmakers and aides must wait before they can pursue careers as lobbyists.

Rogers's efforts are seen by GOP leadership sources as more palatable than the separate packages that have been drafted by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and a group of Democrats. Shays has been outspoken in his condemnation of lobbying in the House, and of the Republican leadership's refusal to permanently replace DeLay, who stepped down as majority leader in September after he was indicted on charges of campaign finance violations.
You can guarantee that if Bill Frist and Mike Rogers are working on "lobbying reform," it will be similar to a "Pat Roberts whitewash job" that will be reform in name only. Obviously if the GOP leadership wanted true lobbying reform, they would push the lobbying reform package drafted by Chris Shays.

But the GOP leadership doesn't want real reform. The GOP wants to look like it is pushing real reform while it continues "business as usual" behind the scenes.

Some members of the GOP may say they have too much power in Washington. But that doesn't mean they really want to relinquish it.

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