How Members of Congress are Judged
WASHINGTON — `ONE of the most troubling'' aspects of the ethics issues that in recent years have bedeviled some members of Congress, says Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D) of Colorado, is that congressional action may be determined by whether members of Congress like or dislike the person accused. ``If you're likable, it doesn't matter,'' Representative Schroeder says, referring to the accusations against popular past congressional figures that were not pursued very far. ``And if you're not, they hang you up by your toes.'' The ethics issue now hangs over House Speaker Jim Wright. Despite Representative Wright's considerable talent, says Representative Schroeder, ``he obviously doesn't have the warm, fuzzy, teddy-bear thing like Tip did,'' referring to his enormously popular predecessor, Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill. But the basis on which Wright or any other member of Congress should be judged, Schroeder says, is conduct, not popularity.
Key to the House's ultimate judgment, she says, will be the conclusions of the House Committee on Standards of Conduct. It now is considering whether probable cause exists to believe that the Speaker broke House rules in several cases. ``Whatever the committee comes out with,'' Schroeder says, ``I don't think anybody's going to buck it.'' If the committee finds against the Speaker and recommends penalties, the full House will vote on the recommendations.
Charges include that he circumvented honoraria limitations through sales of his book, and that he was paid $145,000 indirectly by a friend who had an interest in legislation. The Speaker denies any wrongdoing. Schroeder also is concerned about what she calls ``a stampede mentality'' in Congress concerning ethics - too eager a willingness to hurl charges and to believe them before all the facts are in. ``And if we don't get out of the stampede mentality,'' she says, Congress will be confronted by serious problems in trying to operate effectively.