The (House) Minority Report

Troubled over the inquiry into Tom DeLay’s ethical violations, the Republicans in Congress came up with a simple and quick solution: change the rules, effectively hamstringing the Ethics Committee and giving lawmakers the power to simply ‘run out the clock’ rather than conduct an investigation.

The Republicans are suddenly showing great concern about the effects of extended investigations:

Republican officials say that the previous system was unfair to lawmakers because it could lead to a prolonged review of their cases and that the mere suggestion of a lingering investigation can be poisonous to a political career.

Isn’t this the same party who ensured that there wasn’t a moment when the Clinton White House wasn’t being investigated for some figmental malfeasance or the other? Do we even remember what any of these investigations were anymore? Conspiracy theories about the death of Vince Foster, ‘Travelgate’ (wasn’t that something about Hillary’s luggage?), the First Lady making too much money from buying cattle futures. . . the list goes on and on. And now we have this:

…DeLay, speaking under oath, then gave a candid account of how he offered to endorse, in a primary election, the son of a Republican congressman in exchange for the congressman’s vote on a prescription drug bill…

An admission, under oath, of a quid pro quo directly abusing DeLay’s position in order to make political gains. Apparently, selling political influence should be protected from the lingering cloud of an ethics investigation, but speculating on the price of beef should be pursued and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Looking at the changes that the Republicans are proposing to many of the fundamental rules that govern the behavior of Congress and the government, you have to come to the conclusion that they have either rigged every election through 2199 or entirely taken leave of their senses. At some point, unless they really have pre-printed the ballots and stuffed the boxes (or feel that gerrymandering has created a permanent Democratic minority), it’s going to dawn on the Republicans in Congress that nothing is more inevitable in the United States than a change in political fortunes. The moment that the Republican majority in Congress cracks, their will realize the fantastic fall that their hubris has prepared for them.

Stripped of the filibuster and saddled with toothless ethics rules, the Republicans will have painted themselves into the same corner that they once prepared for the Democrats, there to await the inevitable Democratic over-reaches that will eventually usher them back into power. What a joy it will be for the public to be presented with a succession of bold, empowered, and entirely partisan Congresses, each one working doggedly to undo whatever changes their predecessors succeeded in making. The best scenario sees the glacial pace of progress in a conflicted and divided Congress turned into a spastic see-sawing of policy and counter-policy, played out over the course of unnumbered election cycles.

The protections of the minority party in Congress are just as important as the Constitutional protections of minority citizens. Just as the Constitution prevents the majority from legislating out of existence the rights of an unpopular minority, Congressional rules prevent the majority from silencing the representation in government of nearly half of the population. It’s time to end Mr DeLay’s wild ride.

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