Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) unveiled a series of revisions to his contentious proposal for an external ethics review office on Monday — aimed primarily at ensuring bipartisanship in the new body — in hopes of gaining needed support when Democratic leaders make a second attempt to bring it to the House floor. The proposal could be considered later this week, though the floor schedule has yet to be set.
But the effort at bipartisanship failed to impress House Republicans, who quickly rejected the proposal while touting their own alternative for reforming the ethics system.
“Last week, many of you raised thoughtful concerns about the proposal put forth by the Special Task Force on Ethics Enforcement. ... We heard you and will amend the proposal accordingly,” Capuano, chairman of the task force charged with reviewing the ethics process, wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter issued Monday. “I understand and respect that some Members will continue to have basic philosophical concerns about the creation of any independent entity. Unfortunately, we must respectfully disagree.
“For those who support such an entity, these amendments should address the concerns expressed to me,” he added.
The House was to vote last week to establish an Office of Congressional Ethics that would initiate ethics investigations and issue recommendations to the full House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, part of an ongoing effort to strengthen the chamber’s internal review process.
But Democratic leaders pulled the ethics reform measure from the House floor schedule — after the Rules Committee had already begun a hearing on the legislation — citing a desire to review a last-minute Republican proposal, but also facing lukewarm support among their own rank-and-file about the creation of a review panel operating outside the House itself.
Nonetheless, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated on Thursday that she believed the original resolution would pass on the House floor this week, with “some tweaking.”
“The Speaker has said that she is open to changes based on suggestions from Democrats and Republicans, but the structure of the independent ethics board must remain intact,” said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami.
Pelosi had not seen Capuano’s revisions Monday afternoon; the Massachusetts lawmakers said he had not submitted the changes to leadership in advance of his “Dear Colleague,” nor had he conferred with Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the task force’s ranking member.
“At the moment they’re just mine,” Capuano said on Monday. “The bottom line is ... people either agree or don’t agree that we can use an independent entity.”
In fact, none of the proposed amendments would drastically alter the proposed Office of Congressional Ethics; most are aimed at increasing bipartisanship within the panel.
Among the significant changes, Majority and Minority Leaders would be required to jointly appoint the office’s six members. The existing bill allowed members to be appointed separately if agreement could not be reached within a 90-day period. The panel’s membership would still be limited, and current Members and lobbyists would not be eligible.
In addition, the office could initiate investigations only with the consent of one member from each party. The original proposal allowed any two members, even those from the same party, to call for an investigation.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.