Hypocrisy on Capitol Hill

October 07, 1994

Voters are getting increasingly cynical about Congress. What's worse, Congress is getting increasingly cynical about voters. How else to explain its arrogant refusal to clean up its own act, even in an election year where voter disenchantment with incumbents is a major factor? In the wake of the House bank scandal, the House post office scandal, the indictment of the House majority leader, soiled reputations of five senators in the savings and loan scandal, widespread disgust over the shenanigans of lobbyists on Capitol Hill, gridlock and third-party sentiment, legislators still feel able to thumb their noses at their constituents.

How else to explain the Senate's failure to pass a bill tightening controls on lobbyists -- and their ability to feed money or gifts to legislators? Sure, their sabotage of the latest attempt to reform congressional conduct was artfully camouflaged by a torrent of hypocrisy and a skillfully stage-managed "grass roots" protest. But the argument used to kill the bill was transparently phony.

This was a piece of legislation Congress worked on for more than a year. It was designed, along with the similarly torpedoed campaign finance reform, to eliminate some of the more blatantly corrupt practices employed on Capitol Hill. Not that the legislators were all that eager to clean their houses. But they perceived a need to show voters in November they were acting to remove at least some of the tarnish that stains their image. Somewhat different versions of the bill passed both houses by overwhelming margins. A bipartisan compromise was worked out between the two. The House adopted the compromise, but only after a sneaky attempt by Republican leaders to scuttle the bill on a procedural vote narrowly failed.

Undaunted, Rep. Newt Gingrich, the second-ranking Republican, and conservative talk show hosts stirred up the religious right by claiming falsely that the bill would impede their ability to contact legislators and require them to disclose their membership lists. This was hypocritical hogwash, dispensed by the Georgia Republican who could become speaker of the House next year. In fact religious groups were specifically exempted by the bill, and only paid lobbyists would have to report on their activities. A group of Senate Republicans also took refuge behind this smoke screen to threaten a filibuster, which kills a bill in the waning days of this session. Enough other senators joined them to sustain the filibuster. Once more Congress proves itself to be a den of hypocrites.

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