First, two corrections. In my column last week knocking the Republican Study Committee’s budget proposal as a dumb idea, I made two errors of fact. First, I was wrong in saying the plan immediately erases the federal role for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; in fact, it phases them out over several years. Second, I erred in stating that the RSC plan removes all federal Medicaid support to the states, even as they struggle with the additional load driven by a sagging economy; it would only ax the additional aid that Congress provided to account for that bad economy. So, still a dumb idea, just less dumb than I suggested.
Next, a couple of acknowledgements of important events. The first, a very sad one, is the recent death via an automobile accident of former Rep. Jay Rhodes (R-Ariz.). Jay was a good man, a solid and conscientious conservative legislator who respected Congress and worked diligently to represent his district. He was the son of one of my all-time favorites, former Republican leader John Rhodes, and his values and approach reflected those admirable qualities possessed by his dad.
The second event is a happier one: the 85th birthday of one of the greatest public figures of our lifetimes, Abner Mikva. Mikva is a true rarity, with distinguished service in all three branches of government as a longtime and great Member of the House, a federal appeals court judge and White House counsel. Mikva is also one of the nicest human beings on the planet. May he live, and stay involved in public service, until he is 185. In fact, he is continuing to do his part via a fourth step in national public service, on the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Which brings us to the House ethics process, back in the news. The Ethics Committee once again dissed the OCE by dismissing several cases against lawmakers who had raised campaign funds in close proximity to important policy decisions from parties directly and substantially affected by the votes of those lawmakers. While the committee ruling said it was necessary to look at the totality of the circumstances surrounding each action, the clear message from the Ethics Committee fits its longtime world view: If there is not a direct and blatant violation of the letter of the law or a rule, there is no problem. As the committee basically said last Congress in the care of Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), even the House manual is only advisory.
I believe this is a deeply unfortunate mindset. The standards of the House should be much higher. Imagine if a driver stayed within the speed limit, did not run a red light and did not make an illegal U-turn, but nearly hit several pedestrians, switched lanes in a fashion that caused another car to swerve into a telephone pole and honked loudly at 2 a.m. in a residential area, disturbing the sleep of the residents. Now imagine that the police shrugged at the reckless driving and said they won’t do anything unless there is a specific and direct violation of the traffic laws — that there are no penalties for reckless driving without the specific violation. If that were known universally as the driving standard, we would all be a lot less safe and a lot more nervous, and the standards of civil society would be degraded.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.