March 7, 2006
By Michael Franc
The latest ethics flap in Washington exploded last week on
the pages of the Capitol Hill publication The Hill. It involves
veteran Michigan Democrat and would-be chairman of the House
Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers. Two former staffers allege
a pattern of corruption by Conyers, self-proclaimed "Dean of the
Congressional Black Caucus," including forcing them to work on
several state and local political campaigns while on his
congressional payroll and allowing a senior staff counsel to
conduct her private law practice out of his office.
Also among the charges is that Conyers required his staff to care
for his two young boys, including providing tutoring services to
Conyers' elder son while he attended a posh private school in
Bloomfield Hills. The school "Little John" Conyers attends is the
Cranbrook School. According to its Web site, tuition at Cranbrook
runs a cool $17,880 for grades 1-5, $19,280 for middle school, and
$21,730 for high school. Parents who send their kids to board at
Cranbrook must cough up more than $30,000.
Yet Conyers is a longstanding opponent of any form of school choice
for low-income children. At a "Stand Up for Public Schools" rally a
few years back, Conyers decried educational choice as a "scheme"
which "will only harm our public schools" and pointed instead to
the sort of "real" school reforms drawn from the educational
unions' playbook - teacher training, reduced class size, and school
construction. "It is vital," he said then, "for parents, educators,
and community leaders to join together to strengthen Detroit's
Unless, of course, you can afford to send your child to The
Polls Apart: The mood among Washington's
Republicans these days is sour and grows worse with the release of
each new national poll. A recent CBS poll pegged the president's
approval rating at an all-time low of 34%. For Republicans,
however, that was the good news. The approval rating for Congress
stood at an abysmal 28%.
Chief among the Republicans' concerns is the slow but steady rise
in the level of frustration among their political base. The CBS
survey, for example, found that, while Bush retains at least one
pocket of relatively strong support (Republicans still approve of
his performance by a margin of 72% to 22%), the
Republican-controlled Congress seems to have alienated everyone.
More Republicans (59%) actually give Congress a thumbs-down these
days than do Democrats (55%), while disapproval among Independents
has soared to 68%.
Bush's 72% level of support among Republicans is low by historical
standards. Other polling organizations confirm this erosion of
support. Gallup, for example, found that until March 2005
Republican support for President Bush routinely exceeded 90%. But
then a trickle of Republicans began turning on the president, with
the latest Gallup survey (conducted before the Dubai ports deal
became news) placing Bush's support among Republicans at the
all-time low of 79%.
Most Congressional Republicans would trade their favorite earmarks
for an approval rating of 79%. Indeed, shedding a few thousand
earmarks may be just what the doctor ordered. According to Gallup,
the latest congressional approval rating, at 25%, is only two
points higher than where it stood on the eve of the historic 1994
elections. "I'm tired," one conservative House member recently
confided to his colleagues, "of being yelled at by the same folks
who sent us here."
Congressional Republicans have, at best, four months to turn
things around before the 2006 political season overwhelms all else.
Low approval ratings shouldn't deter them from thinking bold
thoughts and moving the sort of aggressive conservative legislation
that will excite their political base.
After all, the approval rating for Congress was stuck around 30%
throughout the last serious effort to reduce federal spending and
lower taxes. Americans were downright hostile toward former Speaker
Newt Gingrich and his determined band of GOP revolutionaries
precisely while they were outmaneuvering Bill Clinton and winning
approval of the historic 1997 budget agreement. That deal lowered
the top capital gains rate to 20%, created the $500 tax credit for
children and the Roth IRA, and reduced federal spending by hundreds
of billions of dollars. The economy flourished and we enjoyed an
all-too-brief period of fiscal sanity, the loss of which appears to
be a major explanation for the GOP's current woes.
Mike Franc, who
has held a number of positions on Capitol Hill, is vice president
of Government Relations at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Human Events Online
The latest ethics flap in Washington exploded last week on the pages of the Capitol Hill publication The Hill. It involves veteran Michigan Democrat and would-be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers.
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