USA Today takes a look at the "ethics reforms" passed by the Democrats controlling Congress. To say that they are less than impressed is an understatement. They go so far as to point out some of the most egregious examples of the perks for pols that the rules still allow – and there are a lot of them.
On Capitol Hill these days, a shrinking ration of perks has left members of Congress grasping to hang onto every lingering sliver of special treatment they can find — whether it's a free trip to Palm Beach or a way to slip dubious spending projects into the budget.
Such is the mixed legacy of ethics reform passed by the new Democratic majority that took control of Congress in January on a wave of voter revulsion about corruption. The Democrats banned an assortment of sleazy practices, such as the gifts lobbyists used to shower on Congress. They also ordered lobbyists to report more fully on contacts and contributions. But they left plenty of wiggle room and, not surprisingly, there's plenty of wiggling going on:
* Luxury travel. USA TODAY reported last week that during the first eight months this year, lawmakers accepted $1.9 million in free trips — more than they took all last year when Democrats were campaigning against what they dubbed the Republican "culture of corruption."
Instead of banning trips by groups that lobby Congress or push ideological agendas, Congress merely limited them. For example, lawmakers are still allowed to accept hotel stays up to two nights from companies with lobbyists. Thus, 22 House Democrats and three Republicans were able to accept $40,000 in trips — many of them to Las Vegas or Florida resorts — from companies that often are seeking something from Congress. So three nights of cozy influence at a posh resort is corrupting, but two nights is fine?
There are more examples. Earmarks and resorts and perks, oh my. So much for all the high-minded promises that they would clean things up if the got back into power. It is, in fact, not much different and may actually be much worse – and less transparent – now. Congressional pork and corruption is not a partisan issue, either. All Americans should be angry about it. (Where the partisan shot is legitimate here is that the Dems promised they would stop a lot of what they are still allowing – even more furtively than before.)