A Snowball in Hell

Four members of the House of Representatives have taken it upon themselves to actually represent for a change. What they are offering their fellow-members is constituent-friendly legislation in the extreme—a cleaning up and closing down of the most obvious opportunities for congressmen to sidle up to the feed- trough.

It probably hasn’t the chance of a snowball in hell of being enacted, but who knows? Congress is scared stiffer than a three-martini lunch by the Abramoff investigations. Mid-term elections are coming up, the public is fed up with both parties nearly equally and in that climate, anything can happen. Metaphorically, it’s 4am—do you know where your Representative is?

The heroes of this cautionary tale are David Obey of Wisconsin, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, David Price of North Carolina and Tom Allen of Maine. They’re an interesting bunch, playing to their districts in a time when ‘morals’ and ‘congressman’ don’t read well in the same sentence, but interesting none the less.

RepdaveobeywisconsinFor slight background, Dave Obey chaired a commission which wrote a new Code of Ethics for the House, which has been manipulated (as you might expect) but under which more than 20 Members have been disciplined.  His reforms also ended the ability of Members of Congress to put campaign fund surpluses into their own pockets when they retired. So Dave has precedent.

RepbarneyfrankFor his part, Barney Frank laughs at the ‘free speech’ complaints about limiting political contribution. “Everyone in this country will be as free as they ever want to say what they want to say, to speak out. We do say that they cannot use money.”

RepdavidpriceDavid Price feels one thing that’s helped heighten congressional worry is the decline of President Bush’s popularity and the pushing by the Republican leadership of some very unpalatable things. “Like you supposedly pay for Katrina by cutting food stamps, or Medicaid – cutting things that the very victims of Katrina depend on. A lot of Republicans – so-called moderates who have let their arms be twisted on past votes and have let themselves be brought in line – they’re resisting a bit now. It’s a little different. And so, we think some of these proposals for reform might find a little more receptivity on their part.”

ReptomallenTom Allen claims if you preach selfishness, it’s a short step to acting that way for your own interests. “I think that Abramoff is an exception to the general rule of lobbyists, but I certainly have felt in my nine years in the House that there is way too much deference to the rich and powerful in this country.”

Well, we’ll see, Tom. Another plea bargain in the Abramoff investigation has just come down and my own view is Congressional nervousness is driving this legislation.

These four Representatives called a news conference on Monday to introduce their 14-point plan. Characterized as ‘strong medicine,’ it has indeed some teeth we’ll have to see what sort of congressional spoonful of sugar it takes to make this particular medicine go down.

At the conference, Allen said "As with the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely, the centralization of authority in the House of Representatives has come at a disastrous cost for democracy, decency and the public interest. The public has awoken to the folly of current leaders’ practice of passing bills only with a majority of the majority. The result is votes held open for hours to allow for vote buying; huge bills, with nefarious special interest riders attached, rushed to the floor after midnight so Members and the public can’t read them; budget rules routinely waived to permit deficit-adding tax cuts. It’s time to put the people’s voice back into the People’s House."

Now that is what’s known as getting to the core of the matter.

Tom, the public has been awake longer than you guys might have known. Their wakefulness resulted in historically low voter turnouts and a viciousness in political advertising that’s rapidly turning off the voters who remain. What’s at stake is certainly not your or Barney’s, Obey’s or Price’s individual seats, so much as it is public support for federal government in any form. We are becoming more state-conscious and less united-conscious. That’s not a good thing for the country or for us as individuals.

But hey, I have complained long and hard about those who do nothing to improve the national political landscape and here are four guys who are talking the talk. Personally, I think they will walk the walk as well.

The question is if anyone will follow.

For more comments on Washington at work, see my personal web site.

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