It’s a peculiar notion, the idea that only members of Congress should be able to bring ethics complaints against other Congressmen. But well over a year after the Democrats stormed Capitol Hill promising ethics reform, that’s precisely the way Congress continues to function.

Such insular self-policing, not surprisingly, lends itself to discipline both spotty and toothless. Take, for example, the “bipartisan letter of admonition” the Senate issued this month to Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), which did no more than chide the lately discomfited official for his actions–which, beyond his ‘lewd conduct’ in an airport bathroom, included the dubious use of $213,000 in campaign contributions to fund his legal defense associated with the incident.

House investigations are still more limp-handed. Last May, House Democrats voted along party lines to block the censure of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania), who stood accused of violating a new ethics rule that prohibits lawmakers from swapping votes for pork.

Last week, however, the criminal indictment of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Az.) seemed to revive the House momentum for reform. “I think the time has come to have an independent entity,” said Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass), who heads the House taskforce exploring the creation of an independent ethics panel.

After scads of bipartisan scandals, with Congress’s approval ratings languishing at 22%, most Americans long ago reached that conclusion.