Monday, June 4, 2018

Ethics & The Way Congress Operates

Ethics & The Way Congress Operates

The U.S. House & Senate Committees on Ethics, are unique. They are the only standing committees whose membership is evenly divided between each political party no matter which party is in control. 

Also, unlike other committees, the day-to-day work of the Committees on Ethics is conducted by a staff that is nonpartisan by rule. 

For example, the House Ethics Committee rules provide that: “The staff is to be assembled and retained as a professional, nonpartisan staff. . . The staff as a whole and each individual member of the staff shall perform all official duties in a nonpartisan manner. . . No member of the staff shall engage in any partisan political activity directly affecting any congressional or presidential election. . .” The Senate Ethics Committee rules contain similar provisions.

It would seem reasonable to assume that Congressional members instituted the equal party membership and nonpartisan staff requirements because they wanted the "ethics" decisions to be above reproach, infallible, and uncontested politically -- truly "country over party" decisions.

That's not a bad operation model for decision making overall; particularly in today's highly charged, tribalistic political environment.

What if we applied this operational model to all Congressional committees? There's nothing in the Constitution to prohibit it. Congress is free to establish its own rules of operation and that's what has lead to the current system of total Party control, gridlock, dysfunction and bad or no decisions on critically important issues.

In a country where the public is, for all practical purposes, divided between two ideological perspectives, how much sense does it make to continue to formulate policy and make decisions based on only one perspective? One-sided solutions to complex problems don't work and only result in more divisive gridlock and dysfunction and perpetuate revenge politics when party power changes. How can this be good for the economy and business which require consistency and predictability to enable planning and investment in the future.

One-sided decision making in marriage results in divorce. One-sided decision making by Congress results in political chaos which neuters the most significant branch of U.S. government.

Shouldn't Congress be making laws and providing Executive branch oversight based on truth and a common set of facts if it is to have any credibility and respect by the general public? Isn't that what most Americans want?

The operational model presented by the House and Senate Ethics Committees applied to the nearly 200 committees and subcommittees in Congress could lead to vastly improved political decisions that could earn the respect of the American public. Bills, reports or oversight reviews that eventually advanced to the Floor of the Chambers would have been subjected to extensive, unbiased, bipartisan investigation, research and input resulting in many vested agreements and compromises along the way. 

Arriving on the Floor such bills and decisions would have a core group of Republican and Democratic members that would argue and support the final decisions for passage because of their vested interests. It seems possible that such bipartisan support could actually overcome some of the artificially imposed impediments that currently block movement on many decision such as the so-called "Hastert Rule" (majority of the majority) in the House and the filibuster and "holds" in the Senate.

Critics of altering the committee process may claim it will result in deadlock and stalemate, yet one must ask, what has the current process resulted in? In actuality, the process has been tested at the Federal and State levels with surprising and even amazing success (See my blog post: It must also be noted that the House and Senate Ethics Committees have an operational history extending over decades.

Consider these statements, for example, from Republican and Democratic legislators who actually participated in a shared power legislative environment in Michigan: 

John Gernaat (R-Cadillac) – “Shared power will go down in history as an example of how people on both sides can work together to get things done.” 

Ilona Varga (D-Detroit) – “Both sides had to compromise. I feel the people got the best two years of representation in the over eight years I have been there.”

Michael J. Griffin (D-Jackson) – “…people of goodwill and determination can put public policy ahead of partisan consideration. . . Students of government, civics, political science, et cetera, can learn a great deal from this experience.”

Carl F. Gnodtke (R-Sawyer) – “I have often thought it worked well enough that there should be a constitutional amendment requiring equal numbers from both parties be elected to serve in the House.” 

(See many more legislator comments in my blog post 

Sure there will be stalemates along the way, but compare that to what we have now. One-sided solutions (and even that is rare) to complex problems based on wishful thinking, shallow promises, alternative realities and fake facts. Under a shared legislative power (SLP) arrangement, eventually a few good members who put country before party will step up and break the stalemate with compromised solutions that the majority on both sides can support and that will likely stand the test of time.

For further details and insights on SLP see my previous postings which include:

SLP: The Only Hope For "Country Over Party" ( May 21, 2018)
Shared Committee Power And The Ambience of Bipartisanship (, March 22, 2017
Shared Committee Power: How Crazy Is It? (, March 14, 2017  
Beating The Dead Horse Of Bipartisanship (, February 1, 2017
Congress Could Be Functional; If It Wanted To (, January 18, 2017
Bipartisanship: How The GOP Could Heal A Divided Nation (, December 23, 2016