- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

One of the most important political developments in America is the creeping corruption of the Republican Party. Increasingly, there is little meaningful difference between Republicans in Congress and the Democrats they replaced a little more than 10 years ago. Unless they clean up their act fast, Republicans will suffer major losses in next year’s congressional elections.

There is no question Democrats became deeply corrupt in the 40 years after 1954 when they controlled the House of Representatives continuously. Everyone knew it, just as everyone knows the truth of Lord Acton’s famous maxim: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That is why the House bank scandal involving bounced checks was so politically potent: Average people could relate to how it exemplified petty Democratic corruption.

Republicans pounded the bank scandal mercilessly and promised to overhaul House procedures and operations if they took control in 1994. On the first day of a Republican majority, they promised outside audit of all House finances, Congress would be made subject to laws from which it had exempted itself, committee chairmanships would be limited and proxy voting ended. Other reforms also were promised.

To their credit, they enacted these reforms in January 1995. But it didn’t take long before Republicans started engaging in the same abuses of power as the Democrats. Earlier this year, minority members of the House Rules Committee issued a 147-page report detailing these abuses. The worst suppress debate and allow the Republican leadership to ram bills through without any real examination of their provisions.

This is one reason pork barrel projects have vastly proliferated in recent years. As with Alaska’s infamous “bridge to nowhere,” Republican leaders know such blatantly unjustified spending cannot survive open debate and must be sneaked through under subterfuge if it is to be enacted.

One abuse that particularly bothers me is routinely holding open votes far beyond the normal time so Republican leaders can twist arms to force principled conservatives to back big spending measures. The worst was the three-hour vote in 2003 that gave us the Medicare drug monstrosity. Just a few weeks ago it was done again when the leadership held a 5-minute vote open 45 minutes to bludgeon through an energy bill.

Although few Republicans will speak on the record about such abuses for fear of retaliation, it is a growing topic of private conversations. Earlier this year, The Washington Post quoted one leadership aide lamenting, “It took Democrats 40 years to get as arrogant as we have become in 10.”

It was only a matter of time before the petty abuse of power morphed into actual corruption. That is the significance of the growing scandal involving lobbyists Jack Abramoff, Mike Scanlon and others. Last week, Mr. Scanlon pleaded guilty to defrauding Indian tribes who had paid Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon to lobby for their gambling interests in Congress.

Another time, Mr. Abramoff funneled money through a policy institute to pay for a lavish golfing vacation in Scotland for then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, and Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican. Sad to say, I have known of other so-called think tanks abusing their tax-exempt status to pursue political agendas and their executives’ personal profit.

I believe the root of the current Republican scandal wave is that the party’s governing element in Washington has completely forgotten why they were elected in the first place. Grass-roots Republicans support the party because it is the party of small government. Those who like big government, who always want Washington to do more, vote Democratic.

When Republicans begin aping the Democrats by proposing endless pork barrel projects and lavish new drug benefits for the elderly, not even pretending any budget deficit concerns, rank-and-file Republicans wonder why they should remain in a party that has little meaningful difference from the Democrats. I predict many will stay home Election Day next year.

When Republicans no longer stand for any sort of principle, it becomes a simple matter to use power just to reward your friends or those with connections. Things like the Abramoff scandal are the logical consequences. A renewed commitment to principle is the best antidote.

In the words of conservative New York Post columnist John Podhoretz: “As is often the case when reformers take the reins of power, they’ve become mirror images of those they replaced. They’ve grown especially interested in rewarding their friends, punishing their enemies and using government power for their own narrow partisan ends.”

Bruce Bartlett is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide