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Washington Week

September 6, 2010 - 6:00pm

Members of Congress and their staffs will slowly be making their way back to D.C. this coming week, in an effort to get prepared for a quick, short, fall session of the 111th Congress before the November elections.

There's lots of work awaiting the politicians, the least of which is the full funding of our federal government broken into 12 money bills officially called appropriations bills.

Before they get started, they might want to recognize the two awards this Congress should receive by making history. The first one goes to Congress for being the first and only Congress to fail to pass a budget resolution through either chamber of our bicameral Legislature. The second award belongs to this Congress for failing to enact a single appropriations bill before mid-September, when they reconvene from their August recess. Wow, those two feats together amount to quite an accomplishment!

So, you have staffs heading back to D.C. this week gearing up for a floor scramble in the House and Senate chambers. Both sides of the Capitol will scurry to pass the 12 appropriations bills and to pass another jobs bill in an effort to jump-start the ailing unemployment numbers. While this may seem like a weighty agenda for even the most seasoned legislators, we must not forget the leftover ethics issues that plagued this Congress right before the August recess and during the six-week-long recess. Those are the ethics cases involving Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.

In case you were involved in family vacations, back-to-school events and other more important activities over the last several weeks, let me recap the allegations in each case. Before I do, let me remind the readers of this statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an interview with NBCs Brian Williams on Nov. 8, 2006: Drain the swamp means to turn this Congress into the most honest and open Congress in history. That's my pledge -- that is what I intend to do.

The House Ethics Committee will begin its public hearings in September with the case involving Rep. Rangel. He is accused of 13 violations of ethics standards involving failure to report rental income from vacation property in the Dominican Republic and hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and assets that failed to be listed onfinancial disclosure forms. Additional chargessurround use of his staff and stationery to raise money for a college center in New York bearing his name, and further misuse of the congressional free-mail privilege.

The House Ethics Committee also has on its plate in September the allegations of violations by Rep. Waters. The Ethics Committee alleges in this case that her chief of staff, who is also her grandson, took steps to secure federal funding for a bank in which the congresswoman and her husband held hundreds of thousands of dollars in shares.

Finally, Rep. Johnson of Texas has been accused of awarding scholarships last year to two of her grandsons and two of her great-nephews. In addition, the congresswoman awarded a scholarship to the son and daughter of one of her top staffers. This apparently is in violation of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation eligibility rules. Since the scholarship awards program is based on the honor system, these violations were not caught right away.

Stay tuned to see if Speaker Pelosi actually keeps to her word from November 2006 regarding Draining the swamp. Oh, by the way, remember that once a member of Congress is sworn into office, he/she is awarded the title Honorable in front of their name. Hmmm??

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, four-times-elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority and Minority. She is the founder of

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