Republican Attempt to Gut OCE Proves Paul Krugman Right on Unprecedented Corruption

Back in November, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman warned of “unprecedented corruption” to come, saying “We’re about to enter, or may already have entered, an era of corrupt governance unprecedented in U.S. history.”

He is telling us now that the GOP’s attempt to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics is proof of that. The scope of the Republican attack on the OCE is indeed breathtaking.

The Times cites Bryson Morgan, a former investigative lawyer at the OCE as saying of Bob Goodlatte’s new rules, “It effectively allows the committee to shut down any independent investigation into member misconduct.”

Obviously, not an inspiring beginning to complete Republican control of our government. But then, we have precedent to follow: this is not the first time Republicans have done this, though our future is made doubly scary because they’ve never had a Trump before.

As Matthew Yglesias of Vox points out, “Last time the GOP had unified control of Washington their first move was to … weaken congressional ethics rules.” That was in 2005, and then as now, it was over “strong Democratic objections.”

As Krugman remarked in response to Yglesias, “Good point. This is what it’s all about — Trumpism is just a natural extension.” He added,

Paul Ryan, in those heady hours before the Republican ethics coup collapsed under a mass of protests by watchdog groups and their own constituents, claimed in a statement that “I want to make clear that this House will hold its members to the highest ethical standards and the Office will continue to operate independently to provide public accountability to Congress.”

Except that is not what would have been happening under the new rules, and Ryan knows it. Ryan was doing what he does best, using words to obscure rather than illuminate the truth. Ryan claimed, “I have made clear to the new Chair of the House Ethics Committee that it is not to interfere with the Office’s investigations or prevent it from doing its job.”

In fact, the House Ethics Committee is widely known for not caring much about investigating anybody for ethics violations. It would first have to live up to its name to become a factor in, as Ryan says, holding members “accountable to the people.”

The truth is, the Republican-controlled House has not been accountable to the people for a long time and generally gets away with not doing a lot of work by covering it up with a lot of fancy talk and catchy slogans.

The truth is, we dodged a bullet and we’re not out of the water yet. Krugman puts Trump’s criticism of the Republican move this way:

“Notice that Trump isn’t really condemning — let alone blocking – House gutting of ethics oversight, just complaining that it looks bad.”

Or, as Yglesias interprets Trump’s words, “As I read it, Trump said that gutting ethics enforcement is fine but it should have taken a back seat to cutting corporate taxes.”

Either way, it’s not a matter of Republicans wanting to act ethically. They don’t. It hasn’t been in their DNA since the Gilded Age and before.

Though personally honest, President Ulysses S. Grant, another Republican president, oversaw one of the most corrupt administrations in American history from 1869-1877.

We have had plenty of examples since then, as Krugman makes clear in his book The Conscience of a Liberal (2007). We’ve seen Abramoff, DeLay, Gingrich and others parade their lack of ethics for all to see.

So don’t think they’ve learned anything from this. They haven’t. It’s just that this time, they didn’t get away with it. They will have plenty of opportunities to come.