How do you know when a United States congressman has been around too long? When he starts to believe that he owns and controls what the American public pays for with its tax dollars.
A case in point: Rep. Bob Ney, Republican of St. Clairsville in southeastern Ohio, a former state legislator now in his fifth term in Congress.
As chairman of the House Administration Committee, Mr. Ney has denied a request that the public get full access to information distributed by the Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress.
CRS produces reports on all manner of public policy matters for members of Congress and their staffs. This information is regarded to be the most objective available in Washington s intensely partisan atmosphere.
Since CRS works from an annual budget of $73 million provided by the taxpayers, it seems logical that the public should be able to read all of its reports. But Mr. Ney says no.
The reports will only be released if the members who asked for them agree. A pilot program in which the information was distributed widely won t be extended.
The rationale: Members of Congress shouldn t be forced to share information that might cast doubt on their position on an issue or help potential political opponents.
“Let s say that I m working on an issue and I m trying to look for some research that helps me to get my point across and, all of a sudden, the Congressional Research Service sends me over something and I read it and I say, Oh, no, that s not going to help, ” Mr. Ney said, according to the Associated Press.
“Let someone else do the research. Why give your opposition free research?”
We would answer that question by simply pointing out to Mr. Ney that he doesn t own the information produced at taxpayer expense, the American public does. And anyone - everyone - has a right to see it.
One of Mr. Ney s predecessors as chairman of the House Administration Committee was afflicted with a similar blindness for ethics and propriety.
His name was Wayne L. Hays, also from a small eastern Ohio town, who had been in Congress for some 30 years when it was revealed in 1976 that he was maintaining a woman named Elizabeth Ray on the public payroll as his personal sex toy. Remember her? She was the secretary who couldn t type.
Mr. Hays was forced to resign from Congress and became a national laughingstock. Mr. Ney still has a chance to do the right thing and make the research reports public, as they should be.
We re not equating the two situations except to note that each demonstrates the incredible sense of arrogance and entitlement that entangle some members of Congress - those who revel in power and forget who their real boss is.