Search

It's A Charade-- Congress Will Never Pass An Ethics Bill That Seriously Polices Its Own Corruption



When Republicans and their conservative allies in the Democratic Party like Joe Manchin whine about breaking up the Infrastructure and Jobs bill and other progressive revenue legislation my blood boils. Their nefarious motives are all too transparent. It's how for example, a tiny handful of Democrats (Manchin, Sinema, Tester, King, Carper, Shaheen... don't forget Maggie Hassan) were able to join with the GOP and kill the $15 minimum wage.


But there is a gigantic and awesome bill that, unfortunately, should be broken up and passed in pieces, even if it means losing some of the best parts. The pieces of the For the People Act, that can pass the Senate, like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act are just too important to not become law. The full bill passed the House on March 3 (220-210) and has been languishing in the Senate ever since-- cosponsored by every Democrat but one-- Manchin, although some of his DINO cronies who cosponsored it for the record are unenthusiastic off the record.


I want to see every senator on the record on every aspect of this bill. Let them vote and then defend their positions to their constituents. And if it has to be done piecemeal-- fine. The Republicans and the super corrupt among the Democrats will never agree to the ambitious Trump-inspired ethics measures. It can't pass this Senate. But they should all be made to vote on it as a stand alone bill-- while, for example, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act does pass, even if its by altering the filibuster rules to do it. That bill is too important to be held back. This morning Elizabeth Williamson-- whose analysis of what can and can't pass is the opposite of mine-- discussed the ethics aspects of the legislation for NY Times readers. She wrote that "a suite of legislative responses, like requiring the release of presidential tax returns and barring presidents from channeling government money to their private businesses, is now hostage in the Senate to a more public fight over voting rights. And competing priorities of President Biden’s may ensure that the moment to fortify constitutional guardrails that Trump plowed through may already have passed. Most Democrats and a coalition of watchdog groups say the ethics and voting rights sections in a sprawling Senate bill known as the For the People Act, or S.1., should remain intact and entwined. But solid Republican opposition to the legislation’s voter access proposals threatens less debated elements in the measure, part of what was envisioned to be the most comprehensive ethics overhaul since Watergate."



The GOP can filibuster the legislation-- which isn't budgetary and therefor can't be can't be passed through filibuster-proof budgetary reconciliation-- unless Democrats end the filibuster (which Manchin and Sinema have already said is out of the question) or reform the filibuster rules to add voting rights to all the other things that can't be filibustered.


Even Democratic support for the bill has begun to splinter, as the Congressional Black Caucus and some advocacy groups pivot from the full 800-page legislation to pushing for narrower proposals.
“It’s hard to move many things simultaneously through the Senate, and you have a president who is rightly first focused on Covid relief and next focused on infrastructure,” said Max Stier, who leads the Partnership for Public Service, which champions a more effective federal work force. “I worry that important issues like ethics reform don’t make the cut.”
...Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, vowed last month to bring the full bill to a vote. “If our democracy doesn’t work, then we have no hope-- no hope-- of solving any of our other problems,” he said.
The act would expand voting access, curb partisan gerrymandering and curtail the influence of secret donors, special interests and foreign governments in American elections, all hot-button issues that Republican leaders strongly oppose.
“This is clearly an effort by one party to rewrite the rules of our political system,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said last month in a hearing on the bill. “This legislation would forcibly rewrite the election laws in all 50 states.”
The bill’s presidential ethics section is less contested. Major party candidates for president and vice president would have to release 10 years’ worth of personal and business tax returns. The president’s and vice president’s exemption from executive branch conflict-of-interest rules would end. Presidents would be required to place personal financial holdings in a blind trust or limit them to assets that pose no conflict. And federal spending at businesses owned or controlled by the president, vice president, cabinet or their family members would be tightly controlled.
To guard against a president pressuring appointees to interfere in government proceedings involving the president, it would require political appointees to turn such matters over to career staff. The act also addresses the Trump administration’s open flouting of ethics laws already on the books, by granting more power to enforcement bodies like the Office of Government Ethics.
Such provisions have received scant public discussion, but with Republicans dead set against unrelated voting provisions, the legislation appears to have no chance of passing the Senate under current rules, which would require at least 10 Republicans to support it.
“Someone could pull out the ethics portion and see if they could get support,” said Richard L. Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, and an expert in election and campaign finance law. “But usually it takes a scandal to get people moving on ethics reform.”
And three months into the Biden era, the Trump presidency is already receding.
Democratic leaders have so far spurned behind-the-scenes suggestions by some lawmakers and watchdog groups to separate the voting and ethics titles, to give the ethics measure a better shot at passage.
“If we win ethics reforms but still allow politicians to pick and choose their voters or billionaires to buy elections, we will still see a government that prioritizes the needs of special interests over working families,” Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon and the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, said in a statement. “The reason the For the People Act was crafted as a singular package is because each of these interlocking parts works together to return power to the people.”
The act’s voting access measures would allow online, same-day and automatic voter registration, and require the use of paper ballots as a safeguard against fraud. It takes aim at partisan gerrymandering by standardizing rules and opening the process of congressional redistricting to the public. The act would broaden disclosure requirements for campaign and presidential inaugural committee contributions by nonprofit groups and publicly listed companies.

One reason the ethics part of this bill will never pass this Senate is because it polices congressional corruption-- and their are enough senators to never allow that to happen. "For Congress," wrote Williamson, "the bill would impose fuller disclosure of lawmakers’ outside income, require congressional candidates to disclose whether individual campaign donors are lobbyists, prohibit House members from serving on the boards of for-profit companies, and bar House and Senate members and their staff aides from working to advance legislation that would benefit their or their families’ personal financial interests. It would also bar lawmakers from using taxpayer money to pay damages awarded in discrimination and sexual misconduct cases."




102 views