A Mickey Mouse Mess

CARL T. ROWAN

March 18, 1992|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Please allow me to excuse myself from the pack journalism in which the media is fanning a Mickey Mouse House banking mess into what masquerades as a gigantic scandal.

So public opinion has forced the House of Representatives to end, after more than 150 years, one of its most outrageous perks: check-writing privileges against money yet to come, plus protection against overdrafts. This ''bank'' was a ''co-op'' product of the arrogance under which House members still get free doctors, free parking, free exercise and health club facilities, reserved parking spaces at National Airport -- all privileges unavailable to ordinary citizens.

So you're jealous and angry. But you have a responsibility to look at the facts and determine whether some politicians are jerking you around, blinding you to the nation's real problems and scandals with wild political rhetoric about ''check kiting,'' an emotional, inaccurate description of what took place.

Perhaps you heard ABC's Sam Donaldson ask a congressman who wrote overdrafts if he was ''a crook.'' How can you become a crook if you broke no law, violated no House rule and played the game of banking privileges that had been commonplace for more than a century?

Sure, 24 or so congressmen abused their protection against overdrafts in ways that amounted to sizable interest-free loans. But stack that up against the S & L mess. The House banking fiasco didn't cost you or me a nickel. The savings and loan thievery is going to cost $2,000 apiece for every man, woman and child in America. Corruption in the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Reagan years not only cost you and me millions of dollars, but the attendant decline in federal support for low- and middle-class housing is partly responsible for the explosion of the homeless problem in America.

The media love a ''scandal'' that can be hyped every day, sometimes no matter how misleading the reporting. So what if some political hustlers are able to manipulate the media and public opinion?

In this ''banking'' furor we are seeing some of the ''new math'' under which Pat Buchanan loses 2 to 1 and declares victory. Republican House Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who admits he wrote some 20 unfunded checks, is attacking House Speaker Tom Foley, who admits to writing only two overdrafts. Media use of the words ''bounced'' and ''rubber'' is for the most part inaccurate and inflammatory. The House ''bank'' honored the overdrafts in almost every instance, so the payees never recognized any rubber in the checks or suffered any damage.

Mr. Gingrich wants us to believe that those devil Democrats made him do it. He says the problem is the 38-year Democratic monopoly in the House.

We shouldn't get so sucked up into outrage over House arrogance that we forget to ask about House malfeasance: such as that body's acquiescence in spending policies that are drowning this society in almost $4 trillion of debt -- more than $60,000 of indebtedness for every family in the land.

The Reagan and Bush administrations have been writing ''rubber'' checks in our names, with the approval of the Congress, for a decade, and most of us still haven't wised up to the fact -- or to what this has done to the country.

The House banking mess not only is penny-ante, but a political diversion that smart Americans ought not swallow.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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