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Office of Congressional Ethics Must Survive

When the Republicans won the majority in 2010, there were serious questions about whether the OCE would survive to live another day. A number of leaders, including newly minted Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), were anything but supportive in the aftermath of the elections. 

But in part because of the support for a strong ethics process from tea party freshmen, the OCE survived, with all its members and alternates returning and continuing dutifully to do their job.

Now we have another moment of reckoning, this time with a greater challenge.

First is continuing to include the OCE in the rules. Second, under the resolution, four of the members lose their eligibility. The six members and two alternates — Co-Chairmen Porter Goss and David Skaggs, Yvonne Burke, Karan English, Jay Eagen and Allison Hayward, and Bill Frenzel and Abner Mikva — have all been exemplary in their conduct on the job. 

The co-chairmen remain, and as a letter to the leaders from public interest groups notes, the alternates can be made regular members and the retiring members are eligible to become alternates. Whether there is some shuffle, or new members are picked, is for the leaders to decide. 

But the bottom line is that if Pelosi and Boehner do not pick replacements, the OCE cannot function. 

Any replacements should be as strong and credible and dedicated as the current eight. Here are some possibilities: former Members such as Kweisi Mfume, William Gray, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, Jack Buechner, Amo Houghton, Connie Morella and Chris Shays; retiring Rep. Charlie Gonzalez; former staffers such as Donald Wolfensberger (a Roll Call contributing writer), Ira Shapiro, James Ho and Scott Lilly; Harvard professor and ethics guru Dennis Thompson; former mayor and Cabinet officer Henry Cisneros; former Sens. Adlai Stevenson III, Nancy Kassebaum Baker and Paul Sarbanes; retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe; and former House Parliamentarian Charles Johnson.

If House Republicans, with the active support of many Democrats who would just as soon see the OCE fade away, try to drop the watchdog group from the rules package, I can guarantee it will not happen quietly. It will be seen widely, and accurately, as an effort to dilute any meaningful ethics process and return all power to what has become yet again an increasingly partisan and dysfunctional House Ethics Committee. 

If Boehner and Pelosi do not step up with dispatch during the lame-duck session to pick replacement members for the departees, it will be met with equally loud criticism by those interested in integrity in the House. I will be among them.

Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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