Capital Briefs


Four years after Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised the most ethical House in history, there is a quiet movement among some House Democrats to dilute the clout of the Office of Congressional Ethics that she set up. Led by the Congressional Black Caucus, lawmakers are beginning to talk of a post-election weakening of the authority of the OCE, which caused a lot of sleepless nights by releasing the names of House members under investigation. Just last week, Rep. Mel Watt (D.-N.C.), a Black Caucus member, came under scrutiny from the OCE for offering an amendment in ’09 to the financial regulatory reform package bill (which recently passed the House) and then withdrawing it within two days of a fund-raiser held on his behalf. (Along with Watt, three other House Democrats and five Republicans are being asked by the OCE for detailed fund-raising information). Another Black Caucus member, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D.-Ohio), has offered legislation to revamp the ethics office. Among lawmakers who were under investigation for numerous ethics violations last year was Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.), a founding member of the Black Caucus. Although some GOP members were sympathetic to with the idea of diluting the OCE’s reach, many had no sympathy with what the CBC members were trying to do. “I support any effort within Congress to investigate ethics claims to make sure lawmakers are abiding by the rules,” Rep. George Radanovich (R.-Calif.) told Human Events. “We need to show the American people that Congress cares about transparency and fair play.” 


So said Rep. John Campbell (R.-Calif.) last week after the House Budget Committee approved a new “Office of Livable Communities” to cost $20 million as part of the “livable communities initiative” pushed by President Obama and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Campbell, whose “Budget Boondoggle Awards” are today’s heirs to the “Golden Fleece” Awards made famous by the late Sen. William Proxmire (D.-Wis.), wondered: “[Do] we really need another new bureaucracy in the Department of Transportation set up for the sole purpose of imposing utopian neighborhood planning approved by the agenda du jour in Washington? The short answer is No.” 


That’s what a just-completed poll commissioned by National Public Radio showed. In a survey of 70 U.S. House districts considered most likely to unseat incumbents, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and Republican pollster Glen Bolger found what NPR correspondent Mara Liasson called “grim news for Democrats.” In 60 out of the 70 districts held by Democratic lawmakers, voters chose Republicans over Democrats by a margin of 49% to 41%. The same survey found that President Obama’s approval ratings are far lower in the “battleground” districts than nationwide, with 54% disapproving of his performance in office and only 40% expressing approval. “In a year where voters want change and Democrats are seen to be in power, this is a tough poll—about as tough as you can get,” said Greenberg.


At a time when candidates of both parties increasingly say economics is more of a red-meat issue with voters than abortion, the pro-life cause was nonetheless invigorated recently when the Senate Armed Services Committee voted in favor of an amendment permitting doctors at military hospitals to perform abortions. Sponsored by Sen. Roland Burris (D.-Ill.) and passed by a 15-to-12 vote, the amendment to the defense policy bill upends a 15-year-old policy banning abortions at military hospitals except in cases of rape, incest and the life of a mother. Under the Burris amendment, women would be able to have abortions for any reason but would have to pay for themselves and receive no government funds. “[Pro-abortion groups] are using the military as a wedge to implement their agenda,” Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, told reporters. The defense bill still awaits action by the full Senate and in the House, where House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) opposes the Burris Amendment.


With Democrats in South Carolina and on Capitol Hill red-faced over the defeat of their favored candidate to oppose Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) by unemployed U.S. Army veteran Alvin Greene, the left has decided to strike back at the unlikely Democratic primary winner (who is clearly enjoying the nationwide publicity he keeps attracting).  Last week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed complaints with state and federal election officials asserting Greene violated election law. Admitting that she had no hard evidence someone covertly paid the $10,440 filing fee for Greene to run and thus broke the law, Melanie Sloan of the liberal watchdog group told reporters that it seemed “curious” someone whose only income came from unemployment checks could file for office and not run a campaign. State Atty. Gen. Henry McMaster said “no one has provided this office with any credible allegation or information suggesting criminal wrongdoing.”


In a little-noticed but significant vote last week, the House defeated H.R. 5535, a proposal to save taxpayers $15 billion by selling excess federal land. Following the 241-to-179 vote to kill the measure, one co-sponsor, Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-S.C.) told reporters that the vote “should have been a bipartisan no-brainer. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, as uncompromising Democrats defeat-ed yet another common-sense, cost- savings proposal. What will finally wake Washington liberals up? It certainly doesn’t seem like a $13 trillion debt is doing the trick.” 


As the United Auto Workers now find themselves in the position of owning a majority of Chrysler and a portion of General Motors, the historically left-of-center UAW last week elected 63-year-old Bob King as their 10th president.  In succeeding retiring President Ron Gettelfinger, King, who moved up from the vice presidency of the union, said that his top priority was what he called “equality of gain.” By that, he means that “as the Detroit automakers recover, U.A.W members are rewarded for the sacrifices forced upon them to the same degree as executives, white-collar workers, and investors,” according to the New York Times. King comes into power at a time when UAW membership is at a 70-year-low and less than a year before the union goes into contract negotiations with auto manufacturers.


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