"We are going to have the most ethical Congress in the nation's history." So said House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi in the afterglow of the Democrats' Congressional election victory. As it turns out, ethics are malleable. They are in the eye of the beholder.
She pulled out all the stops last week to get the Democratic caucus to elect Rep. John Murtha as Majority Leader of the House. Stories surfaced about Murtha's involvement in the Abscam caper of 1980. In that one, FBI agents, posing as representatives of an Arab sheik, offered bribes to some members of Congress. Several took them and went down for the count, legally and politically. Murtha was recorded on tape as saying to the fake Arabs, "I'm not interested...at this point." He lucked out, the only lawmaker involved in Abscam who wasn't charged with a crime.
Just before the vote for Majority Leader, the Associated Press noted Murtha's "penchant for trading votes for pork projects." A bill is afoot to publicize pork engineered by a member in his/her own district, leaving untouched his/her votes for the largess elsewhere. It appears that is the kind Murtha favors.
Murtha, having lost the race to Steny Hoyer, 146-89, says he will go back to his "little subcommittee." That's the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. It oversees the Pentagon budget, including spending on the war in Iraq. Hence, plenty of opportunities to make mischief and dispense or withhold pork.
It is said that Ms. Nancy, fresh from the defeat of ethicist Murtha, now wants to bypass the currently ranking minority member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Jane Harman, and give the chairmanship in 2007 to Alcee Hastings of Florida. Hastings, another leading ethicist, had been a federal judge, was impeached, convicted and removed from office for accepting a bribe. Nancy Pelosi voted in favor of the action. That was then; this is now.
Over on the Senate side we have Senator Hillary Clinton who redefined "frugality" in her reelection campaign. She did not have serious opposition and won by 30 points; however, to make sure of that, she spent $30 million, more than any other campaign in this year's election cycle.
Mrs. Clinton pinched every penny to make sure her donors were getting their money's worth (wink, wink, it's nearly 2008). In the process she made many a florist, caterer and restaurateur happy. In Las Vegas her campaign spent $6,585 on flowers. In Glendale, Colorado it was $5,397.50 for a caterer and in Manhattan, $80,000 at the Tavern on the Green. She also spent several thousand dollars on hair styling and makeup. After all, one must look one's best, lest the voters flee to the opponent.
There is not much Her Ethicalness in the House of Representatives can do about a free-spending senator, but at least she has the satisfaction of knowing that her coronation will take place next January. Hillary will have to wait until January 2009.
With Ms. Pelosi stumbling twice in her quest for "the most ethical Congress in the nation's history," what are the odds she will achieve her goal? Very good if you believe that shrimps can be taught to whistle and pigs to fly.