Members of Congress and their staffs will slowly be making their way back to D.C. this week to prepare for the last session of the 111th Congress before the November elections. There is lots of work awaiting the politicians, but they have already made history: first by being the only Congress to fail to pass a budget resolution through either chamber of our bi-cameral legislature; and second for failing to enact a single appropriations bill before mid-September. Wow, those two feats together amount to quite an accomplishment!
So, you have staff heading back to D.C. this week gearing up for a floor scramble in the House and Senate chambers. Both chambers will scurry to pass the twelve appropriations bills as well as another jobs bill. While this may seem like a weighty agenda for even the most seasoned legislators, we must not forget the unresolved ethics issues involving Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). In case you were on family vacations, at back-to-school events, or taking part in other more important activities over the last several weeks, let me recap the allegations in each case. Before I do, let me remind you of what Speaker Pelosi said in an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams on November 8, 2006: “‘Drain the swamp’ means to turn this Congress into the most honest and open Congress in history. That’s my pledge — that is what I intend to do.”
The House ethics committee will begin its public hearings in September with the case involving Rep. Rangel. He is accused of thirteen violations of ethics standards for failing to report rental income from vacation property in the Dominican Republic and for failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and assets. He is also accused of using his staff and stationary to raise money for a college center in New York bearing his name and for misusing his congressional free mail privilege.
The ethics committee alleges that Rep. Waters’ chief of staff, who is also her grandson, took steps to secure federal funding for a bank that the congresswoman and her husband owned hundreds of thousands of dollars of shares in.
Finally, Rep. Johnson has been accused of awarding scholarships to two of her grandsons and two of her great-nephews. She is also accused of awarding scholarships to the son and daughter of one of her top staffers. This apparently is in violation of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s eligibility rules. Since the scholarship awards program is based on the “honor system,” these violations were not caught right away.
Stay tuned to see if Speaker Pelosi actually keeps to her word regarding “draining the swamp.” Oh, by the way, remember that when members of Congress are sworn into office they are awarded the title “Honorable.”
Elizabeth Letchworth is the Owner-Founder of GradeGov.com, 4 times elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority/Minority, U. S. Senate-retired, presently senior legislative advisor at Covington & Burling, LLC.