Congress is a club for exceptional people

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Column by Jim Flynn

Most Congress people arrive in Washington with ordinary backgrounds and an agenda of noble intentions to do good for constituents and the nation.
It doesn’t take long however for Congress people to become exceptional. To some extent it’s not their fault. It may be an effect of ingesting Washington air and water.
On a Saturday some years ago we delivered our daughter to Washington for her congressional internship and were told the telephone and television service could not be activated until Monday. A kindly person at the apartment complex suggested we call the utilities and tell them in a friendly way that our daughter could not be at her apartment on weekdays, because she would be working at the offices of Congressman Dogoody (a pseudonym). With instant courtesy the utilities performed the installation on Sunday.
Doing good in Congress can be financially rewarding. Nearly half of the sitting members are millionaires, an unlikely result considering their modest $174,000 annual salaries for their full-time jobs.
In all fairness, some members are millionaires because of inheritances, marriages, or successful careers in the real world.
Interestingly, over the past five years, while most Americans were watching their net worth decline, the exceptional members of Congress experienced a continuing rise in their net wealth — very substantial increases for some.
Notwithstanding occasional examples of ethics violations, most Congress people stay within their written code of conduct. The 15 page, short form Standards of Official Conduct of the House of Representatives can be carried in a brief case for quick reference if needed.
Among other things the ethics standards cover gifts, events, travel, and conflicts of interest. They also say no one is placed at risk by seeking confidential Ethics Committee advice when in doubt — a sort of a dig-safe warning to consider before digging an ethical hole.
The Ethics Manual also says members should never use information received confidentially in performance of governmental duties as a means of making private profits.
Why then was it necessary for CBS’s 60 Minutes to uncover stock trading based on insider information which had been going on for years in the offices of Congress? Minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s office called the 60 Minutes expose’ a smear, and Speaker John Boehner’s office called it idiotic.
How could Congressional leaders not have known about insider dealing when bills to stop trading on Congressional knowledge (Stock Act) had been introduced in three successive sessions — 2006, 2007, and 2009 — all of which died in committee.
After two more years of foot dragging by both parties, 93 members of Congress signed on as cosponsors of what is now known as the STOCK ACT, which President Obama signed into law on April 4, 2012. Little wonder Congress has a ten percent approval rating. Some members of Congress should be term limited at the polls come November, and regularly thereafter. Too long in public service is dangerous to their ethical health.