On December 5th, four Congressmen held a press conference at the Center For American Progress, David Obey of Wisconsin, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, David Price of North Carolina and Tom Allen of Maine to propose an ambitious 14-point plan to clean up the House of Representatives. The proposal received favorable coverage in the media – most notably from the dean of Washington insiders, David Broder in the Washington Post on December 8th. A Daily Kos blogger named "thisniss" even wrote on December 6th,
“just wanted to say today that I love my representative, David Price (NC 4th, the dark blue island in a mostly red state).”Indeed, on paper their plan seems just the right tonic in the aftermath of Congressman Randall “Duke” Cunningham’s admission of taking a bribe and the metastasizing Jack Abramoff scandal. It confronts the influence peddling of lobbyists by disallowing any reimbursed travel by a member of the House or its staff unless that person could certify in writing that no lobbyists were invited on the trip, no lobbyists attended the meetings, and whoever sponsored the gathering does not lobby or pay for lobbying. Another worthwhile provision is that former members who utilize their special privileges of visiting the floor of the House while it is in session must guarantee that the floor isn’t debating a subject they have a financial stake in and that the alumni will not advocate for or against any matter during the visit. Perhaps most importantly the four Congressmen addressed the importance of fiscal responsibility in their proposal. Their reform plan would put an end to "Earmarks," the spending targeted toward individual projects in members' districts, which are used to punish dissenters or reward reluctant supporters, thereby enforcing party discipline on bigger bills. They would also require that reconciliation bills -- the end-of-the-line spending measures -- must be codified to reduce the budget deficit, not increase it, unless approved by a two-thirds vote of the House.
Other points are clearly designed to change the culture of the House such as “ending the two day work week,” promoting more openness in floor debates, and banning the sort of arm twisting shenanigans that took place when the prescription drug plan was passed by extending the debate on the floor for several hours. Not surprisingly their proposal is not being well received by the Republican leadership. I am perplexed however by the reluctance of the Democratic Party to embrace the plan. This is just the sort of blue print that should be endorsed by the entire Democratic House caucus and championed by the leadership. While there have been some nice quotes from individual members, the silence of the leadership is deafening. In reflecting on the corruption in Washington this past year, noted political commentator Mark Shields recently said on the PBS News Hour that,
“But in the midst of this sea of sleaze not to become the reform party, Tom Allen of Maine, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Dave Obey of Wisconsin, and Dave Price of North Carolina, introduced a reform package, a very straightforward reform package, no more room, board and tuition from Jack Abramoff or any other lobbyists, no lobbying by former members on the floor during votes or anything of the sort - I mean, just kind of straightforward things. And the fact that the party has not embraced it and made it its own and become the reform party tells you something that there is something missing there in the Democrats.”Issues of state are often grand and complex. When it comes to matters of war and peace, health care, and economic policy, honorable people can disagree. Tom Allen, Barney Frank, David Obey, and David Price represent very different districts and each man has different approaches on issues ranging from Iraq to gay rights. However, there should not be any disagreement about matters of honesty, integrity, and good clean government. When corruption, influence peddling, and cash bribes for votes are permitted the public interest is not being represented in the debate.
The Democrats contentedly sit on the sidelines while the Republican Party squirms under the intense gaze of a public fed up with corruption. Certainly, the Republicans deserve to squirm. In fact, once the dust fully settles from the Abramoff scandal many Republican politicians may deservedly find themselves behind bars. However, it is imperative that the Democrats present themselves as part of the solution. Four honorable and intrepid public servants in their party have done just that. Why isn’t House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi using this straight from the hip proposal from her own caucus as a rallying point to contrast her party with the Republicans? For that matter, how come Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid doesn’t put forward his own plan for lobbying reform in the Senate and make news by attaching it as an amendment to every bill put forward by the Republicans? Once again the Democrats have an opportunity to contrast themselves with the feculent and corrupt Republican Party. Sadly, the Democrats have by their leadership's passivity and silence, shown that they’re a part of the problem.
SIDEBAR: Readers of the Intrepid Liberal Journal may recall that I have previously referred to Democrats such as Joe Lieberman as a “Republocrat” while the four Congressmen in today’s post for example are “Intrepid.” A Republocrat is someone who benefits from the Democratic Party label but undermines progressive values. Someone who is Intrepid such as Russ Feingold goes against the grain to promote progressive values. Now that we’re starting 2006, at the end of every month the Intrepid Liberal Journal will name the Intrepid Person of the Month as well as the Republocrat of the Month. I am receptive to suggestions and can be influenced by lobbying (feel free to bribe me Jack Abramoff style!). It is my hope, especially for the Intrepid Person of the Month, to receive suggestions about people not generally known to the public. Perhaps it’s a woman serving on a local school board in a red state fighting for the teaching of evolution. If any readers know of Intrepid people in their communities deserving of recognition, I want to know about it. Also, if readers believe there is a particular Democrat who deserves to be exposed for undermining progressive values I also want to know about it. So please make these suggestions by posting comments and directing me to information that I can verify. Together we can buck up brave Intrepid souls standing up for what’s right as well letting Republocrats know, that we’re watching them.