"Nancy Pelosi said in the very beginning that this is going to be the most open, honest ethical congress in history," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor on Meet the Press at the end of last month, "and what we are seeing is that she is breaking that promise every day."
Democrats don't discount the fact that the Rangel debacle--and growing questions about Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) who resigned yesterday--are serious issues. But they note a couple significant differences: The Republican list of ethics problems was seemingly endless, and, unlike Democrats, the GOP actually tried to shield their members from repercussions.
"We've made very, very substantial reforms in this Congress," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer at his weekly press conference today. "At the beginning of the 110th Congress--the last Congress--[we] banned gifts from lobbyists, prohibited use of corporate jets, mandated ethics training for all House employees, established an office of Congressional ethics, we ensured transparency for earmarks, requiring full disclosure of all bills and conference reports, forfeiture of pension and annuity for congressional service if a member is convicted of a serious crime, broader and more detailed disclosures of lobbying activities by paid lobbyists."
Aides make the point more bluntly.
"House Democrats have instituted strong new ethics, earmark and lobbying reforms to hold members of Congress accountable," says Doug Thornell, spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the sixth-ranking Democrat in the House.
We have also reprimanded members who have been found to have broken the public's trust. I guess the GOP is hoping voters have short-term memory loss. When they were in the majority, a few years ago, they ran a 'pay to play' system with K Street based out of their leadership offices, changed the rules to protect Tom Delay, and tried to cover-up the Foley scandal, among other things. They supported no meaningful reforms and in fact voted against many of the measures we passed last Congress.
Democrats point not only to the recent past, when Jack Abramoff and Mark Foley both helped topple the Republican majority, but also to nearly two dozen Republican lawmakers who continue to serve under an ethical cloud, or who face investigations of their own--many of which extend back to the heydays of GOP corruption.
In other words, Democrats have a long way to go before they enter GOP ethics territory.
"Toyota has more credibility on car safety than these guys have on ethics," says Thornell.