So much for “drain the swamp”…. (More)

“Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress”

Yesterday House Republicans voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics:

Defying the wishes of their top leaders, House Republicans voted behind closed doors Monday night to rein in the independent ethics office created eight years ago in the wake of a series of embarrassing congressional scandals.

The 119-to-74 vote during a GOP conference meeting means that the House rules package expected to be adopted Tuesday, the first day of the 115th Congress, would rename the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) as the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and place it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee.

Under the proposed new rules, the office could not employ a spokesperson, investigate anonymous tips or refer criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the express consent of the Ethics Committee, which would gain the power to summarily end any OCE probe.

The new rules basically gut the OCE:

The office currently has free rein, enabling investigators to pursue allegations and then recommend further action to the House Ethics Committee as they see fit.

Now, the office would be under the thumb of lawmakers themselves. The proposal also appears to limit the scope of the office’s work by barring them from considering anonymous tips against lawmakers. And it would stop the office from disclosing the findings of some of their investigations, as they currently do after the recommendations go to House Ethics.

President-elect Donald Trump ran on a platform of draining the swamp of an often all-too-cozy Washington D.C.

Monday night’s moves go in the opposite direction, severely loosening oversight of lawmakers’ potential conflicts of interest, use of campaign money and other ethical matters.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi summed it up nicely:

“Republicans claim they want to drain the swamp, but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions,” Pelosi said. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”

Following the North Carolina GOP Roadmap, House Republicans did this late at night with no advance notice and no public debate. Mother JonesKevin Drum adds context:

This is all happening at the same time that the most corrupt president in modern history – almost by definition – is about to take office. Donald Trump has made it crystal clear that he doesn’t care about conflict-of-interest allegations and plans to use the presidency to boost his family’s wealth by as much as the traffic will bear. Republicans in Congress have responded by making it clear that this is fine with them, and now the House is making it equally clear that they don’t intend to allow any serious investigations of corruption among their own members. It’s going to be a free-for-all, and nobody with any subpoena power will ever be allowed to touch any Republican.

I didn’t expect them to be quite so obvious about this. But apparently they just don’t care anymore.

Well sure. They hold all the levers of power and they intend to wield those levers with impunity. And speaking of …

“The ultimate backhand acknowledgement that the party has no answers”

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait reports that Senate and House Republicans’ new health care plan is to repeal-and-delay … indefinitely:

Even some very conservative Republicans, who have spent years denouncing Obamacare as a socialist monstrosity, have acknowledged the political impossibility of throwing 20 million people off their insurance. If Republicans blow up Obamacare, “the media and the left will blame the repeal vote for any turmoil in insurance markets,” editorializes The Wall Street Journal, “Republicans will own health care, like it or not.” John Goodman, a conservative health-care-policy activist, concedes, “It’s not going to be politically possible to throw 20 million people out on the street without health insurance.”

Repeal-and-delay is the ultimate backhand acknowledgement that the party has no answers. Their wan hope is that by repealing the law, they can satisfy the blood lust of conservative activists. The repeal won’t take place for years. Then they can hide under some coats and hope it all works out.

Well yeah, “the media and the left will blame the repeal vote” because that’s what would create the turmoil. But Chait explains that Republicans have a sneak-around for that too:

The most likely answer is that Republicans never craft a replacement. They repeal Obamacare, but delay the effective date of the repeal, and then Obamacare becomes a “cliff” that Congress votes to keep extending. There is no majority in Congress behind any one specific plan to replace Obamacare, but there is probably a majority against blowing it up immediately. That will likely become the new status quo. There’s no transition to a new plan. The transition is the plan. Or, at least, it will be.

Sahil Kapur reports that Republicans in Congress are contemplating a transition period that could last as long as four years. It is obviously ludicrous to rush to repeal the law while delaying the effective date of the repeal for four years. Arch-conservatives in Congress are already lobbying to move up the repeal date for this reason – but even if they succeed in phasing out Obamacare over two or three years rather than four, it just means that Congress will have to pass another extension. The most likely outcome is that Republicans keep extending the law until Democrats have the presidency again, at which point they’ll no longer have an incentive to prevent mass suffering, and can go back to opposing anything Democrats try to do to make the system work. Republicans just need to keep the system from collapsing on their watch.

As with Social Security and Medicare, any truly workable solution would violate conservative ideology, and any solution that passes their ideological litmus test would be politically toxic. So their ‘solution’ is to booby-trap the system and spin a story of the collapse proving that Democrats can’t make anything work.

It’s a lousy way to solve problems … but it’s a great way to retain power, and that’s all Republicans really care about.

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Photo Credit: Kyle Jellison (NOAA)

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Good day and good nuts