Members of Congress and their staffs will slowly be making their way
back to D.C. this coming week, in an effort to get prepared for a
quick, short, fall session of the 111th Congress before the November
There's lots of work awaiting the politicians, the least of which is
the full funding of our federal government broken into 12 money bills
officially called appropriations bills.
Before they get started, they might want to recognize the two awards
this Congress should receive by making history. The first one goes to
Congress for being the first and only Congress to fail to pass a
budget resolution through either chamber of our bicameral Legislature.
The second award belongs to this Congress for failing to enact a
single appropriations bill before mid-September, when they reconvene
from their August recess. Wow, those two feats together amount to
quite an accomplishment!
So, you have staffs heading back to D.C. this week gearing up for a
floor scramble in the House and Senate chambers. Both sides of the
Capitol will scurry to pass the 12 appropriations bills and to pass
another jobs bill in an effort to jump-start the ailing unemployment
numbers. While this may seem like a weighty agenda for even the most
seasoned legislators, we must not forget the leftover ethics issues
that plagued this Congress right before the August recess and during
the six-week-long recess. Those are the ethics cases involving Rep.
Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. and Rep. Eddie
Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.
In case you were involved in family vacations, back-to-school events
and other more important activities over the last several weeks, let
me recap the allegations in each case. Before I do, let me remind the
readers of this statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an
interview with NBC’s Brian Williams on Nov. 8, 2006: “‘Drain the
swamp’ means to turn this Congress into the most honest and open
Congress in history. That's my pledge -- that is what I intend to do.”
The House Ethics Committee will begin its public hearings in September
with the case involving Rep. Rangel. He is accused of 13 violations of
ethics standards involving failure to report rental income from
vacation property in the Dominican Republic and hundreds of thousands
of dollars in income and assets that failed to be listed on financial
disclosure forms. Additional charges surround use of his staff and
stationery to raise money for a college center in New York bearing his
name, and further misuse of the congressional free-mail privilege.
The House Ethics Committee also has on its plate in September the
allegations of violations by Rep. Waters. The Ethics Committee alleges
in this case that her chief of staff, who is also her grandson, took
steps to secure federal funding for a bank in which the congresswoman
and her husband held hundreds of thousands of dollars in shares.
Finally, Rep. Johnson of Texas has been accused of awarding
scholarships last year to two of her grandsons and two of her great-
nephews. In addition, the congresswoman awarded a scholarship to the
son and daughter of one of her top staffers. This apparently is in
violation of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation eligibility
rules. Since the scholarship awards program is based on the honor
system, these violations were not caught right away.
Stay tuned to see if Speaker Pelosi actually keeps to her word from
November 2006 regarding “Draining the swamp.” Oh, by the way, remember
that once a member of Congress is sworn into office, he/she is awarded
the title “Honorable” in front of their name. Hmmm??
Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, four-times-elected United States
Senate Secretary for the Majority and Minority. She is the founder of