Capitol Hillbillies

Names may change but corruption remains

It didn’t all start with Watergate — the age of Washington ethical lapses, that is — and the ghosts of earlier scandals still haunt the halls of Congress.

Back in the ’60s following a Senate scandal of huge proportions, first the upper chamber of Congress and then the House decided to establish bipartisan committees to convince the public that lawmakers took ethics seriously. Until that time, allegations of ethics violations were handled by standing committees controlled by the majority party.

Democrats want probe of McCain’s finances

The national Democratic party wants campaign finance regulators to investigate whether Sen. John McCain would violate money-in-politics laws by withdrawing from the primary election’s public finance system.

McCain, who had been entitled to $5.8 million in federal funds for the primary, has decided to bypass the system so he can avoid spending limits between now and the GOP’s national convention in September.

Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason notified McCain last week that he can only withdraw from public financing if he answers questions about a campaign loan and obtains approval from four members of the six-member commission. Such approval is doubtful in the short term because the commission has four vacancies and cannot convene a quorum.

Anti-poverty bill ignites blogosphere

It isn’t a high-profile bill, but the Global Poverty Act has lit up the conservative blogosphere, and even Rush Limbaugh has gotten into the act.

Quietly approved by the House last fall with bipartisan support, the measure would require the president to develop a comprehensive strategy to help reduce extreme global poverty.

A deadly place called Congress

The death of Rep. Tom Lantos this week brought to seven the number of Capitol Hill lawmakers who have died during the 110th Congress, which still has almost another year to go.

Like most of the others, the California Democrat succumbed to cancer.

The current congressional death toll is the highest in at least a decade, but it pales next to the 76th Congress (1939-41), when 29 members passed on.

Leaving town in disgrace

Both the White House and the U.S. House ended the week on a mutually sour note.

As he has with all his terrorism legislation, President Bush tried to stampede Congress into passing a wiretap bill, saying the country was “in more danger of an attack” if it didn’t enact the law precisely the way he wanted.

The prior law, a temporary measure smarmily called the Protect America Act, expires this weekend and very little will change. Wiretapping foreign communications will be governed, as it has been for the last 30 years, by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Bush, Congress try to out-politic each other

With a deadline looming, President Bush and congressional Democrats are locked in a standoff over the government’s authority to spy on foreign phone calls and e-mails that pass through the United States.

A temporary law that makes it easier to carry out that spying expires Saturday night at midnight, and Bush and his top intelligence officials say the consequences are dire. Al-Qaida, Bush says, is “thinking about hurting the American people again,” and would be helped if U.S. eavesdropping is hampered.

Senate panel faults Larry Craig’s behavior

The Senate Ethics Committee said Wednesday that Idaho Sen. Larry Craig acted improperly in connection with a men’s room sex sting last year and had brought discredit on the Senate.

In a letter to the Republican senator, the ethics panel said Craig’s attempt to withdraw his guilty plea after his arrest at a Minneapolis airport was an effort to evade legal consequences of his own actions.

Craig’s actions constitute “improper conduct which has reflected discreditably on the Senate,” the letter said.

Senate votes waterboarding ban

The Senate passed legislation Wednesday to bar the CIA from using harsh interrogation methods including waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique denounced by rights groups as torture.

The Democratic-led Senate voted 51-45 in favor of a bill calling for the Central Intelligence Agency to adopt the US Army Field Manual, which forbids waterboarding and other types of coercive interrogation methods.

Republicans face reality of life with McCain

In John McCain, congressional Republicans are grappling with the notion of a presidential nominee most didn’t expect or want.

Now, struggling under a raft of retirements that has dimmed their chances of regaining control of the House and Senate, Republicans are coming to terms with the idea of the Arizona senator at the top of their ticket in November.

Don’t ask, don’t tell may be on way out

That faint crumbling sound coming from the Pentagon appears to be heralding the beginning of the end of the controversial "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on gays in the military. Or at least the end of its diligent enforcement.

It’s been more than a year since Army Sgt. Darren Manzella told his superiors that he was gay, and nearly two months since he told his story on "60 Minutes." So far, the medic — who spent a year in Iraq — continues to serve without penalty.