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A congressional calamity: Mired in allegations

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted December 19, 2005

I am second to none in my admiration for Congressman Tom DeLay (R-TX) and what he has done with that unruly crew known as the House Republican Conference. Now DeLay, awaiting a trial on money-laundering in Texas, is no longer Majority Leader, at least for now. His position as Majority Leader was assumed by House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO).

To be blunt about it (pun intended), the Congressman from Missouri is getting a bum rap. Blunt has had problems getting some bills through the House. One appropriations bill was defeated and another bill was pulled from the calendar when, at the last minute, it was clear that the votes were not there to pass it.

Blunt, it is rumored, doesn't have the clout that DeLay had and thus can't keep his people together to pass these bills. Although Blunt is a good friend, were the rumor true I would admit it. It is not true. Circumstances have changed. That is why Blunt appears to be struggling and the DeLay machine appears to have rolled along.

From 1995, when DeLay became Majority Whip, to the indictment earlier this year, when DeLay stepped down from the Leadership, DeLay always secured some Democratic votes. Once he complained that the Democratic Caucus so pressured its Members to vote party line that he counted only seven Democratic defectors voting with the Republicans. Regularly over 20 Democrats would vote with DeLay. Sometimes on controversial measures the count was much higher. That masked Republican defectors to the Democrats. On the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) vote, for example, an equivalent number of Republicans and Democrats defected. ANWR easily was passed because Democrats who voted for ANWR balanced the defections of more than 20 Republicans who opposed ANWR.

Were you to be on Capitol Hill these days you would understand that Democrats now believe they will control the 110th Congress. I have no proof, but I am willing to wager that the Democratic Leadership has warned the defectors that if they want to chair subcommittees or committees in 2007 or if they want to remain on certain key committees they now had better vote with the Democratic Leadership.

Suddenly Blunt finds himself having to get through tough measures, such as the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 cutting $50 billion in spending, with only Republican votes. Yes, Republicans control the House 232 to 202, with one Independent who is a Socialist voting with the Democrats. Subtract 20 Republicans, add zero Democrats and the magic 218 majority just isn't there.

Blaming Blunt for this situation is patently unfair. If Blunt had polls showing that the public loved the Republican Majority and wanted to return it, Blunt could count the same number of Democratic votes which DeLay always received. Unfortunately for Blunt Republican and Democratic polls indicate that the public thinks ill of Congress, blames Republicans and is willing to put Democrats back in power. That may change in 11 months but now Blunt must deal with these matters.

After a very tough month, that the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 was passed, albeit by a few votes and without ANWR. Other measures have been passed as well. Blunt remains standing and is preparing for the new year. DeLay meanwhile has asked for a speedy trial. Were DeLay to stand trial early in January and if, as many expect, were he to be acquitted of money-laundering charges, he perhaps could avoid a new leadership election and resume his post as Majority Leader. Clearly were the trial to drag on there would be a new leadership election and DeLay would be unable to return to his leadership post even if the jury found him not guilty.

Some Republicans are alleged to want a new leadership election regardless of DeLay's fate in court. That is because of a looming scandal of potential mammoth proportion, which centers upon lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff is said to have defrauded several American Indian tribes which operate casinos of millions of dollars while lobbying Congress on their behalf. While lobbying, Abramoff took some Members of Congress on some pretty fancy trips, allegedly usually paid for by a 501(c)(3) organization, which Abramoff would reimburse for the trips. The scandal is under investigation by Senator John S. McCain, III (R-AZ), chairman of Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, as well as by the Justice Department.

One source who appears to be knowledgeable about the investigation alleges that eight Members of Congress are involved in the scandal and that the number likely will grow higher. Congressman Robert W. ("Bob") Ney (R-OH) has been told by the Justice Department that he is a target of their investigation and could be in legal jeopardy. Translated: He may be indicted. DeLay's name has been linked to the entire investigation. His involvement is not known publicly.

Members of Congress fear this scandal far more than they fear immigration, profligate spending or the Iraqi War. Democrats already have advanced the 2006 theme that Republicans have created "a culture of corruption" in Washington. When, in an unrelated scandal, Congressman Randy ("Duke") Cunningham (R-CA) resigned because he accepted $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard B. Dean,III, M.D. were among those who inundated the media with the "culture of corruption" theme.

Were it to be disclosed that DeLay is more involved with Abramoff than originally had been thought there is a fair possibility that members would insist upon a new leadership election, in part to distance themselves from DeLay. The Justice Department evidently now has as a witness a former Abramoff employee who, in order to save his own skin, may sing, sing, sing. Whether he will be truthful when singing is another story.

The prosecutorial system sometimes provides a potential witness an incentive to lie. Former California State Assembly Leader Pat Nolan was jailed based upon testimony from a single staff member who claimed she had witnessed his changing his vote in exchange for a bribe. Other witnesses claimed the opposite. The frightened lady was told that she would not see her young children graduate from college if she did not testify as the prosecution wished.

Members don't know what will become of the Abramoff scandal but they fear the worst. For that reason, poor DeLay, even were he fresh from a possible acquittal in Texas, might not return as Majority Leader.

Some Democrats also are involved in this scandal. That doesn't bother the Democratic Leadership. They will push the "culture of corruption" theme anyway, knowing that the old line media will give them coverage.

There is hope. Rush Limbaugh continues to add listeners. Sean Hannity just has added his 500th station. Newsmax.com now attracts 2.4 million readers a day. Locally over a thousand conservative radio talk show hosts and various conservative web sites, a number of which carry this commentary, regularly are gaining new listeners.

The New Media competes with the Old Media so the truth about this scandal may be balanced. The real problem is: Congress is involved in too much of the nation's business. Human nature is weak. Temptations abound. There is more corruption in Washington than formerly because there is much more temptation. Yes, there is a culture of corruption. But it isn't members taking golf outings. It is the billions of taxpayer money which Congress should not be spending. As is often the case, when all is said and done, the wrong people may go to jail.

Paul M. Weyrich is the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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