Republicans are in denial. They've forgotten all the favors they did for Jack Abramoff. They continue to raise unprecedented amounts of money from lobbyists on K Street. And today they're expected to vote for a lobbying "reform" bill that is so weak and watered-down one watchdog called it a "complete joke." A bill intended to strengthen representative democracy only insults it.
"My leadership doesn't think we have an ethics problem and doesn't believe in reform," remarked Rep. Chris Shays, one of the few Republican reformers left in Congress. His leadership, as the Washington Post describes today, is betting that the public won't notice, or won't care. When members of Congress went home recently for recess, their constituents complained about the Iraq war, immigration and gas prices--no matter that the GOP is on the wrong side of those issues as well.
It's true that few voters are following the intricacies of this debate or pressing their leaders for tougher ethics reform legislation. But everywhere you go, Americans are disgusted by the influence of lobbyists, skeptical of Washington rhetoric and convinced the system is broken. They're right. Sour voters usually turn on the party in power. Republicans elected in 1994 ought to know this.
And the Democratic leadership, for its part, has been remarkably inept at making the oft-repeated rhetoric about a "culture of corruption" stick. The top Democrat on the paralyzed House Ethics Committee recently was forced to resign. Another rank-and-file member, William Jefferson, is almost certain to be indicted. It may not be easy to sell a message of "we're bad, but the other side is worse," to the American people.
UPDATE: House just pulled bill from the floor. Unclear why. There could be some fireworks later today.