And Now for Some Meaningful Hearings

Leave Whitewater to the prosecutor; let Congress investigate its own ties to monied interests

IS it just me, or are you also bored to tears with the third and fourth set of Whitewater hearings that the Congress has held during the past two years?

It has cost $25 million in taxpayer dollars to determine, so far, that the president and Mrs. Clinton claimed a few thousand in questionable tax deductions and did not pay as much attention to their personal finances in Arkansas as they should have.

The foot soldiers in both the Republican and Democratic parties on Capitol Hill are sparring and jousting in both banking committees to score political points in a tedious display of partisan one-upmanship.

How Bill Clinton raised campaign contributions and handled (or mishandled) his personal finances in Arkansas in 1985 may interest die-hard opponents of the president, but I suspect most Americans have more immediate concerns about themselves, their families, and their country.

Enough is enough about Whitewater! The special prosecutor remains hard at work, so the Congress should let him do his job. I can think of scores of more important questions that should be front and center in the Congress and on the public airwaves.

Questions such as:

Why is the gap between wealthy citizens on the one hand and middle- and low-income citizens on the other hand wider and increasing faster in the United States than in any other industrialized nation?

Why are so many Americans working longer hours for less take-home pay, despite official claims that the US economy is rocking right along?

Why don't we have a plan to eliminate our nation's record-high trade deficit in addition to a plan to eliminate the budget deficit?

Why do 5 million children go to bed hungry every night in America?

Perhaps more to the point, why not investigate the way special-interest money from the financial industry in America is thrown at virtually every member of the House and Senate Banking Committees for their reelection campaigns?

The 51 members of the House Banking Committee received at least $4.6 million in 1991-93 from political-action committees (PACS) and individuals with financial interests overseen by the committee now sitting in judgment of the Clintons. These special-interest campaign contributions are flowing at an even faster clip this election cycle.

Even worse, the corrosive influence of big money from special interests with well-heeled lobbyists working the halls of the 104th Congress has become epidemic. Obscene amounts of PAC contributions are flowing into the coffers of members of Congress from both major political parties. The Republican Party received $11 million at one fund-raiser last February from wealthy individuals and corporations. Not to be outdone, the Democratic Party offers lunches with Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for $100,000 a pop.

I am glad that all of the Whitewater charges raised during our hearings this past week are under investigation by special prosecutor - as they should be. Clearly, anyone who has violated the law should be prosecuted and punished if found guilty.

But in his or her heart of hearts every member of Congress on the Banking Committee and every other committee understands that the tens of millions of dollars pouring into campaign coffers for next year's elections will translate into certain interest groups and industries being treated more equally than the rest of us during this self-proclaimed revolution that Speaker Gingrich is spearheading. The result is that the 104th Congress under Republican leadership has already voted to give huge tax breaks to many of America's largest corporations.

It has also voted for Star Wars and additional B-2 bombers, while voting to cut Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, and nutrition programs for low-income and working people.

Let the special prosecutor determine once and for all whether Bill Clinton violated the law while serving as governor of Arkansas.

This Congress, instead, should get busy now to pass campaign finance-reform legislation and to stop swimming in an ocean of special-interest money.

That is why I am requesting of the chairman of the House Banking Committee, Jim Leach (R) of Iowa, that he schedule a hearing right away that does not deal with Whitewater but asks the high-rollers of the financial industry in America why they contribute so much PAC money to the two parties and to individual members of Congress.

Wouldn't every voter and taxpayer like to hear on television just what they expect to get in return?

Now that the House Banking Committee has completed five more days of hearings on Whitewater, we ought to have at least one hearing on an issue of enormous importance to all of the American people - curbing the influence of big money inside the Congress.

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