It's been a big week for Congressional procedural antics. First the DeLay rule, now a small provisions in a huge omnibus spending package that would've allowed specified committee chairs and their designees (staffers) access to anyone's IRS records. Sound like fun, eh? Josh Marshall addresses the issue in a string of posts starting with this one and continuing up the site, ending with this most recent post.
The amendment, which almost made it past the Dems, was apparently entered on behalf of House Approps Transportation (yea, trans) Subcommittee Chairman Ernest Istook of Oklahoma. Of course, lots of specified MOCs have access to all kinds of sensitive information - though nothing seems to stike the collective American nerve like tax returns (which are totally sacred, unless, of course, you're running for office, in which case, what are you hiding you fiscal and moral deviant?).
Josh asks whether Istook will face any disciplinary action, formal or informal.
Let's evalute that from technical and practical perspectives.
Technically speaking, I'm almost positive no rule was broken. This kind of slip-it-in tactic is hardly new. It's crafty and hard to do in the information age, but when you're passing phonebook sized bills, sometimes the temptation is too great. Also, I'm assuming (dangerous, but it's late and I wouldn't do a good job getting this all down right now), if it was, indeed, an "amendment" that it was voted on somewhere. Unless this bill was in conference (and even then), you can't just tack something one without following certain procedures. Either way, legislative bodies are responsible for regulating the behavior of their membership. See, e.g. DeLay, Tom. And, as we've seen, those rules are subject to change at any time for any reason. It's one of those perks of democracy the minority party isn't always in love with.
That leads us into the practical evaluation. Again, see DeLay, Tom for all the indication you need. 1) Istook likely did nothing "wrong," as easy as it is to vehemently disagree with the amendment. 2) If it was "wrong," it certainly wouldn't be "wrong" in a legal sense (immunity trumps all, my friends, since I figure you'd be hard pressed to prove this wasn't within the scope of his office). 3) If it was "wrong" according to any internal Congressional rule, he probably won't really pay for his actions.
The great thing about democracy, however, is supposed to be accountability. So I hope the DNC is out actively scouting strong challengers for that seat. There's great fodder for commercials here. Have at him.
I can hear the adds now: So call Rep. Istook today. Tell him to stay out of our private lives.
Josh's other questions are technical in nature - in terms of who authorized the amendment, etc. These things don't fall from the sky. There's a paper trail. (Here, however, I step way back, since I'm far more versed in California Legislative procedure anymore. But I'll admit these latest Congressional hijinx make me itch for another shot at the Hill.)