Hoyer Assails Republican Weakening Of House's Ethics Standards

For Immediate Release:

January 4, 2005

Contact:Stacey Farnen Bernards
(202) 225 - 3130

WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) today spoke on the House Floor in opposition to Republicans’ weakening of the House’s ethical standards.   The following is Representative Hoyer’s statement as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. Speaker, the opening day of a new Congress should be one in which the interests of this institution are paramount.  The body of rules we adopt to govern debate, decorum, and the actions of our Members should reflect that.

“To be sure, the American people who elected us to this great body can expect to see sharp differences on this Floor over the substance of legislation.  That is as the Framers of the Constitution intended.  But the Framers also intended, and the American people deserve to know, that this House is committed to holding its Members to the highest ethical standards.

“Today, the House rules in the wrong direction.  The rules proposed for the 109th House ignore this fundamental principle.  The proposed Republican rules before us will seriously weaken the Ethics Committee's ability to enforce standards of integrity by providing that no action will be taken on a properly filed ethics complaint after 45 days unless the committee votes by majority vote to take action.

“Under current rules, which have functioned well since 1997, a properly filed complaint that has not been addressed by the Chair and Ranking Member, or the Committee itself, automatically goes to an investigative subcommittee.  That is as it should be.  Inaction should not mean dismissal.

“The Republican proposal would make it extremely difficult to investigate properly filed complaints.  Under this new rule, by appointing compliant, partisan Members to the Committee, either side will be able to guarantee a deadlock when a legitimate, factually strong ethics complaint against a Member is filed, provided the Chair or Ranking Member take no action.

“We have been told that the most egregious attempts to weaken the ethics system have been abandoned.  I beg to differ.  The most egregious attempt is the one before us right now.  Let no one miss this distinction: The proposal to protect an indicted leader – a proposal that has been withdrawn by the Majority – always was speculative because we do not know if a leader will face indictment.  In sharp contrast, the rule before us will have a concrete, demonstrable effect on every ethics complaint filed from this day forward.

“Mr. Speaker, the Ethics Committee is the only mechanism that this institution has to police itself.  When we weaken the Committee, we weaken the standards that we are all expected to uphold.  And we erode public confidence in this institution.

“The adoption of this rule will substantially weaken our commitment to ensuring ethical conduct.  I urge my colleagues to reject it.”

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