For those who've been distracted by the war, an update on what's been happening on Capitol Hill:
Republicans are putting the political lash to Democrats who opposed the war, accusing them of putting appeasement before country. Disoriented Democrats are turning on each other. Congressional ethics have become a joke or a scandal, depending on how seriously you view it.While everyone was focused on the ground war, the Senate ethics committee let four of the Keating Five off the hook, sending only Sen. Alan Cranston of California into the dock to face judgement. The committee, critics say, has now become part of the savings and loan scandal.
Then came the disclosure that Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., had not reported more than $9,000 in gifts he received from the University of South Carolina when the college was seeking a $16.3 million grant from the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Hatfield chaired at the time.
Fortunately for the senator, Americans were celebrating the war's end and probably didn't notice - or care - that another member of Congress had been caught on the wrong side of the ethics line.
Hatfield is now rushing to amend his financial disclosure statement, saying he did not realize until recently the true value of the gifts.
The gifts Hatfield received between 1983 and 1987 were paid for with money out of two discretionary funds controlled by James B. Holderman, then the university president and a longtime friend of Hatfield's. The senator's son, who graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1987, received a full scholarship from another fund controlled by Holderman.
The university got its grant, but Hatfield scoffs at the notion "that I would be influenced by these gifts."
Now, we have the spectacle of two Democratic senators, James Sasser of Tennessee and Charles Robb of Virginia, publicly challenging each other's veracity.
Sasser recently decided to dump Robb from the Senate Budget Committee, explaining that the committee had become unwieldy. Robb disputes Sasser's version and insists that he was shown the door because of his fiscal conservatism.
"The chairman and I had a private discussion on the issue," Robb told the New York Times. "And he admitted to me that although his public position was to reduce the size of the committee, that, as he put it, if I would have been more willing to cooperate, then he would have been more willing to go to bat for me. It is clear that, for whatever reason, he viewed me as an impediment for the way he wanted to operate the committee."
Who is telling the truth here? The gentleman from Tennessee or the gentleman from Virginia? Neither is calling the other a liar, but that's what it amounts to.
It is unusual for a congressional committee to remove a member, but Sasser is known to be unhappy with Robb's resistance to the Democratic position on budget matters. Sasser's decision to sack Robb, the son-in-law of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, was supported by other senior Democrats on the committee.
Some can see Robb running for president some day as the Democrat who was kicked off the Senate Budget Committee because he was too conservative. Breaking ranks with the Democratic leadership, Robb has been pressing for deep spending cuts to bring down the budget deficit.
Some of his Democratic colleagues also are reportedly furious with Robb for saying that the January vote on authorizing Bush to go to war was a "legitimate" issue for Republicans to raise. Robb was one of the few Senate Democrats who voted for the war resolution.
Congress has a spring break coming up - and none too soon.