The House ethics committee has developed cobwebs in recent years as Republicans and Democrats have carefully avoided filing corruption complaints against each other, lest a mutual blood bath break out. But now comes a bit of “Solon Bites Solon” news: Representative Chris Bell, a Texas Democrat who was defeated in his party primary and has little left to lose, is taking a parting shot at the Republican majority leader, Tom DeLay of Texas. Mr. Bell is going before the ethics committee to accuse Mr. DeLay, one of Washington’s major powers, of misusing campaign funds and favoring donors with legislative favors.Mr. DeLay firmly denies the charges as his defenders ascribe sour grapes to Mr. Bell. It was Mr. DeLay who intruded into the Texas Statehouse to engineer brazenly pro-Republican gerrymandering that helped unhorse Mr. Bell. Republicans, sensing a campaign tactic to demonize Mr. DeLay, are already warning they will respond in kind to Mr. Bell and go after questionable ethical practices among Democrats. “You kill my dog, I’ll kill your cat,” said Representative John Doolittle, a California Republican, in a comment to The Washington Post.
Still, if the ethics panel is actually listening, we say let the chips fall where they may, and, more important, don’t stop here. Among the many things the House’s snoozing watchdogs have failed to act on is a G.O.P. member’s bribery complaint about the long night of arm-twisting required to pass the Medicare drug bill last year.
It has been seven years since the House changed its rules to deny outside interests the right to file ethics complaints. The reason is plain: House leaders, aware of how Newt Gingrich and Jim Wright were dethroned in past ethical fracases, have wanted to keep the process muted. But this should be a matter of professional integrity, not the subject of a mutually assured destruction pact. Far more scrutiny is needed in this area.
You can say that twice.