President Bill Clinton swept into office promising to have the most honest and ethical administration in history. By whatever your measure, he fell far short.
Likewise, Democrats took control of the House in January for the first time in a dozen years full of promises to be fair and just -- unlike their predecessors -- and to drain the swamp that was feeding the "culture of corruption."
Well, the Democrats demonstrated yesterday that they are dedicated to rooting out corruption and ethics violations, but only if the House member in question has an "R" after their name.
House Democrats rejected a Republican bid yesterday to reprimand Rep. John P. Murtha (D., Pa.), a senior lawmaker accused of threatening legislative reprisals against a GOP member who had crossed him.
Before and after the largely party-line vote, which caused some Democrats discomfort, Republicans taunted Democratic leaders about their campaign promises to run a more ethical and open Congress.
The House voted 219-189 to kill the Republicans' motion to reprimand Murtha, an Iraq war foe and close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.).
Two Democrats, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jim Cooper of Tennessee, voted to keep the Republicans' motion alive. One Republican, Timothy F. Murphy of Pennsylvania, voted to table, or kill, it.
Murtha, known for his bluff manner and fondness of pork-barrel projects, did not dispute claims that he charged across the House floor May 17 to confront Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich). Rogers had tried unsuccessfully to strike a $23 million Murtha earmark - a targeted spending item - for a drug intelligence center in Murtha's southwestern Pennsylvania district.
In a House speech Monday, Rogers said Murtha threatened him by saying: "You will not get any earmarks now and forever." Rogers, backed by House GOP leaders, said Murtha's threat violated congressional ethics rules.
It should be noted that Murtha has never denied making the threat. Democrats Blumenauer and Cooper also deserve some credit for bucking the party line and voting to debate the measure.
We're five months into the Democrats tenure in charge of both houses of Congress and thus far we don't have much in the way of substantive legislation passed. The count often repeated lately in newscasts is that 26 bills passed by this Congress have been signed into law by President Bush -- and 12 of them do nothing more than rename federal buildings.
This may be divided government at its best -- and worst.
Over at the Majority Accountability Project, they note that 23 freshmen Democrats who just last week vowed to reform Congress voted to table the motion on Murtha.
Especially embarassing is a comment made by Connecticut freshman Chris Murphy:
“Too often the ethics process has been used by Congress to protect its own,” Murphy told his hometown paper, the New Britain Herald. "People are tired of the scandalous headlines coming out of Washington, and Congress should move forward soon to clean up its act.”
But, with a $2,000 campaign donation, Murtha apparently bought himself a little protection from Murphy's rhetoric.