Blame where blame belongs

March 19, 1992

Now that three members of the Bush cabinet, including Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, have been sullied in the House Bank scandal, perhaps the partisan name-calling will stop and the blame will come to rest where it belongs -- on the leadership on both sides of the aisle. The scandal is bipartisan in its reach, which is just as well because it is Congress itself that is really on trial.

Retribution has already started, where it should, at the hands of the voters. Rep. Charles Hayes, an Illinois Democrat with 716 overdrafts, was defeated in Tuesday's primary. Others still facing primaries this spring are squirming and running scared. Together with the anti-incumbency mood that has struck down other veteran legislators, the House bank mess doubtless will end more congressional careers before this political year is over.

It could be a healthy catharsis. Congress is sick. It has been sick for years. The bank scandal is only the latest symptom. Midnight pay raises, junkets, unpaid restaurant bills (already heavily subsidized), free mail and travel and a host of other perks have dragged Congress to new lows in public esteem. That its so-called leaders still have not learned their lesson is evident in the behavior of both parties' leaders. Speaker Thomas S. Foley quibbles about the seriousness of a criminal inquiry. Republican leader Robert H. Michel was no more anxious to identify all offenders than were the Democrats. Others indulge in craven alibis.

There is another election down the road, after the voters have their say. When the new Congress convenes next January, it may have more new faces than usual. Either way, both parties will elect its leaders. To newcomers and oldtimers alike it should be clear that the bank scandal, like others that have gone uncorrected before it, represents a failure of leadership. The voters will take care of the worst rank and file offenders. Congress can start redeeming itself by changing faces at the top.

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