McMillen proposes to clean House Suggests review and reform of privileges.

March 23, 1992|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tom McMillen of Maryland is proposing a spring cleaning for the House of Representatives -- an institution in turmoil over scandals involving bad checks, drugs in the post office and unpaid restaurant bills.

"To many Americans, [the House Bank scandal] is the latest in a series of events that largely has eroded public confidence in this institution and government in general," said Mr. McMillen, D-4th, in a March 19 letter to House Speaker Thomas S. Foley. "The overall image of the Congress has sunk to its lowest level in decades."

To spruce up the House's tarnished image, Mr. McMillen proposed that Mr. Foley, D-Wash., and Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, establish an independent, bipartisan commission to review all "unique privileges" of House members and suggest reforms.

A recent investigation revealed that before the House Bank was closed in October, some members routinely wrote checks that bounced -- and, in the most extreme cases, wrote overdrafts to buy real estate and make other investments.

Mr. McMillen, who is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in a redrawn 1st District, did not have an account at the bank.

Under Mr. McMillen's proposal, institutions to be opened to scrutiny would include the House post office, gymnasium, restaurants and stationery store, as well as representatives' travel procedures, pension plan and health benefit program.

His letter was dated the same day that Robert Rota, the House postmaster, resigned abruptly after reports of an illegal check-cashing operation in the House post office.

In February, a Postal Service audit accused a clerk at the House post office of selling drugs in congressional office buildings and said his supervisor was a major customer.

And in late 1991, news reports detailed many unpaid delinquent bills by members of the House to the House restaurant system.

The commission could be created "unilaterally" by Mr. Foley and Mr. Mitchell, Mr. McMillen said in his letter. It would be made up of business leaders, academics and former members of Congress.

In an interview, Mr. McMillen suggested Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Washington Post board chairwoman Katharine Graham, Chrysler Corp. chairman Lee Iacocca and former CBS television anchor Walter Cronkite as people who would be able to "offer something" to the management of the chamber.

"We need someone to pass scrutiny on this from the outside," said Mr. McMillen. "Right now, 435 members of Congress are running around independently trying to manage things.

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