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New Ethics Panel 'Not Even Close'

Even as they pass a set of broad lobbying reforms, House Democrats have run into a wall with their consideration of a new internal commission to handle ethics complaints, particularly from outside watchdog groups.

Rep. Michael E. Capuano (D-Mass.), who is heading a task force studying the idea of a new panel separate from the House ethics committee, said that he is "not even close" to finishing up his work on the issue and signaled nothing was likely until October or November.

As a sidecar to the broad ethics plan, which was approved on an overwhelming 411 to 8 vote Tuesday, some reform-minded House members have been pushing the idea of the new internal commission made up of ethics experts or even former members to vet complaints from outside groups or possibly initiate the early stages of an investigation based on media reports. The proposal would set up a process by which the new panel would serve as the chief investigators. The findings would be presented to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (the ethics panel), which would act as a grand jury. If the potential violation were serious enough, the full House would act as the final jury in a case.

Watchdogs have pushed for the new non-member panel because they feel the ten-member ethics committee, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, is designed to ensure gridlock and inaction. But many lawmakers have been wary of starting a new investigative body that, with no sitting lawmakers on it, cedes the investigative power of policing members of Congress to non-members.

Capuano has held meetings of his task force for the past eight months. During an interview with Capitol Briefing Monday evening, he voiced his frustration with the process. "I had a perfect bill. Everybody hated it," he said.

To demonstrate, Capuano pointed to an ornate column in the Speaker's Lobby just off the House floor and softly punched a spot on the column: "I tried to go here," he said of his first proposal. Then, he explained, flinging his fist off the wall, he got pushed back from either the outside groups or his fellow lawmakers. He picked another spot on the column, softly punching it to describe his next approach to the new investigative panel, again flinching his fist off to show the pushback. He did this a few too many times for Capitol Briefing to count.

For movie fans, Capuano's performance was the legislative equivalent of Rocky Balboa punching the slabs of meat while he trained for the big fight. And, to hear Capuano tell it these days, his task force might as big an underdog in the effort to finish its work this fall and get a new ethics panel created as Rocky was in his first fight with Apollo Creed.

Capuano said he took two or three weeks off from the issue in July, trying to let it settle, but resumed his small meetings late last week. But the House leaves later this week for a five-week recess and won't return until after Labor Day. Asked if his task force would have a proposal in September, Capuano bluntly responded: "If we're lucky."

Capuano's original deadline for his task for was May 1. And by early June he told the Washington Post's Elizabeth Williamson that a final deal was "within reach."

Now, however, Capuano is more within reach of columns-turned-punching bags than he is of creating this new panel.

By Paul Kane  |  August 1, 2007; 1:40 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules , House  
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Comments

If everyone hated his bill as you mentioned, it mostlikely was the best one possible and as strong as it should be. Both old time Democrats and old time Republicans have been around too long in some ways and have gotten lazy about doing the right thing. It's just too easy to play along with the lobbyists, go to their fancy resorts and play golf instead of improving the lots of the poor and middle class constituents they are supposed to represent. They need a wakeup call for both domestic and foreign bills of all sorts. Keep telling them off. I have 3 of mine I have kept track of since they voted for the Iraq war after I gave them 5 or more good reasons why we shouldn't. They all believed Bush and his WMD's.

Posted by: Patricia Wilson | August 1, 2007 11:34 PM | Report abuse

If everyone hated his bill as you mentioned, it mostlikely was the best one possible and as strong as it should be. Both old time Democrats and old time Republicans have been around too long in some ways and have gotten lazy about doing the right thing. It's just too easy to play along with the lobbyists, go to their fancy resorts and play golf instead of improving the lots of the poor and middle class constituents they are supposed to represent. They need a wakeup call for both domestic and foreign bills of all sorts. Keep telling them off. I have 3 of mine I have kept track of since they voted for the Iraq war after I gave them 5 or more good reasons why we shouldn't. They all believed Bush and his WMD's.

Posted by: Patricia Wilson | August 1, 2007 11:34 PM | Report abuse

I believe that anyone caught stealing; embezzeling; or otherwise causing a loss from the Public Purse, should have their hands cut off at the wrists and branded on the forehead as a thief. I would imagine that one such executing would get an honest Congress.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2007 1:12 PM | Report abuse

The link entitled "Capitol Briefing: The Untold Story of Cheney 'Quagmire' Video" does not provide access to that story. (This sort of thing happens quite often on the Post's Web site, and it's frustrating. I tried the Feedback link to report the problem, but it would not work.) Could someone PLEASE link the Cheney 'Quagmire Video' story with the link? I would like to read it! Thank you. - GC

Posted by: G Cornwell | August 17, 2007 2:43 PM | Report abuse

The link entitled "Capitol Briefing: The Untold Story of Cheney 'Quagmire' Video" does not provide access to that story. (This sort of thing happens quite often on the Post's Web site, and it's frustrating. I tried the Feedback link to report the problem, but it would not work.) Could someone PLEASE link the Cheney 'Quagmire Video' story with the link? I would like to read it! Thank you. - GC

Posted by: G Cornwell | August 17, 2007 2:44 PM | Report abuse

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