I'm not going to wade into the relevance of long-ago ethics issues or even questions about the earmarking process in the House Appropriations Committee, but I still have some serious questions about Jack Murtha's commitment to ethics and lobbying reforms, which were among the top reasons why the American people elected a Democratic Congress last Tuesday.
Today, Roll Call quoted Congressman Murtha as saying that the Democrats' ethics and lobbying reform legislation was "total crap", but that he would support them out of deference to presumptive-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. According to Justin Rood over at TPM Muckraker, Murtha went on MSNBC's Hardball and claimed that his statements were taken out of context, telling Matthews,
"What I said was, it's total crap, the idea we have to deal with an issue like this, when. . . we've got a war going on and we got all these other issues."
If it were the case that Murtha believed that it was necessary to deal with the Iraq War before moving on to other reforms, that would be one thing. But the problem is that Murtha already has a track record of not only opposing Democratic reform legislation but actually helping to kill it.
Back in May, the Democrats had enough Republican votes to pass strict a strict lobbying and ethics reform package (or at least force endangered Republicans to have to vote no, damaging their reelection efforts) -- if the Democratic caucus remained unified on the issue. But the Democratic measure failed on a 216 to 213 vote, with Democratic Representatives Boucher of Virginia, Capuano of Massachusetts, Sabo of Minnesota and Murtha of Pennsylvania voting no. As I wrote at the time,
I appreciate that there were principles behind the votes of Boucher, Capuano, Murtha and Sabo, that in their minds there was a great reason behind voting no on the roll call vote. But by abandoning their party at such a key juncture they gave sixteen Republicans an unbelievable gift.
Most of those sixteen GOP Representatives -- Charlie Bass (NH), Jeb Bradley (NH), Michael Castle (DE), Steve Chabot (OH), Michael Fitzpatrick (PA), Jim Gerlach (PA), Mark Green (WI), Nancy Johnson (CT), Walter Jones (NC), Jim Leach (IA), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Todd Platts (PA), Jim Ramstad (MN), Chris Shays (CT), Rob Simmons (CT) and Heather Wilson (NM) -- come from districts that are marginally Republican, at best, and many of them face very tough challenges from the Democrats this year. Were any of them forced to vote against the real lobbying reform proposal forwarded by the Democratic Party as a result of intense pressure from their own party leadership (the GOP almost always seems able to whip together the necessary votes for victory one way or another), surely they would have been hampered by the press, who seem to be in favor of reform, and hit by campaign ads highlighting their unwillingness to clean up Washington.
But these 16 Republican Congressmen did not have to make the tough choice between defending their party and defending themselves. Why? Because four Democratic Congressmen didn't make them. They just gave them a free pass to vote for a popular proposal that didn't have the votes to be enacted -- and thus wouldn't damage the GOP as a whole.
I still do not recall having heard a compelling argument as to why Rep. Murtha voted to kill the Democrats' reform legislation -- and his statement to Roll Call and his obfuscation on MSNBC does not alleviate this situation whatsoever.
As I said before, I am less confident that Steny Hoyer would be the best possible House Majority Leader than I once was. But as many have rightly noted, the choice at this juncture is between Reps. Murtha and Hoyer. And without the ethics reform issue being clearly resolved, I would find it very difficult to support a bid by Rep. Murtha -- even keeping in mind the large role he played in helping the Dems retake the House by coming out so strongly on the issue of Iraq.