House Delays Action on Capuano’s Ethics Measure

Posted January 23, 2008 at 6:58pm

The House will not reopen its internal rules this month to establish a new independent ethics review office, as Democratic leadership continues to mull the contents of the proposal and Republicans remain silent on whether they will oppose the plans.

Under legislation introduced in mid- December by Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), the House would establish an independent office to review and submit formal complaints to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, in an attempt to strengthen the chamber’s internal ethics process.

Although Democratic leaders anticipated the measure would be considered when the House returned for the second half of the 110th Congress this month, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday that the legislation is still being reviewed, although he did not detail specific areas of concern.

“There are discussions about that, and we expect that to move at some point in time in the not-too-distant future,” Hoyer said, “but it is still under discussion.”

Among the potential sticking points are concerns raised by some freshman Democrats as well as Congressional watchdog organizations that the proposed Office of Congressional Ethics — which would be charged with initiating and reviewing allegations of Member misconduct and advising the ethics committee of its findings — lacks subpoena powers, rendering it toothless.

“We understand it makes sense to get the stimulus package done before we start debate on the ethics bill,” said Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), referring to ongoing negotiations over a short-term economic package.

Murphy, who has co-sponsored legislation with Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) to reform the ethics process, said he has discussed forming a “cohesive” stance with fellow freshmen when the ethics proposal moves to the House floor.

“There’s room to have greater investigative powers in the outside panel,” Murphy said, citing the addition of either full or partial subpoena powers. “All indications I have from leadership is they are willing to talk about it.”

But Capuano, who chaired the task force established to review the ethics complaint process and held numerous sessions with Members during a nearly yearlong review, said Wednesday he has not held any discussions since introducing the measure in December.

In the meantime, House Republicans have remained silent on the matter. In December, GOP task force members similarly declined to endorse the body’s final report and the legislation.

“It’s up to them to decide when to bring it to the floor and at that time we’ll decide whether to support it,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the task force’s ranking member.