John Murtha has disgraced his office in a host of ways since he was first elected to Congress: from his willingness to entertain bribes during the Abscam investigation, to his delivery of millions in taxpayer dollars into the hands of friends and associates, to his slandering of former Marines. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that he's also willing to forego some of the responsibilities of his office.
One of the jobs of a Member of Congress is to attempt to ensure that federal funds are spent honestly and wisely. Some elected officials take this seriously; others more or less ignore it. I can't recall a Member of Congress who specifically claimed that it was not his responsibility - until now:
Mr. Murtha is treated like a god throughout the two-day event, with contractors literally bending down almost on their knees to talk to him. He is forced often to sit, due to recent knee surgery. That ended at a brief news conference Friday morning.
His office had just announced $110 million in federal contract awards to local firms, but a reporter wanted to get his reaction to the federal investigation of Kuchera Defense Systems, which is among the congressman's biggest campaign contributors. The imposing, white-maned 76-year-old flashed some righteous anger.
"So what's that got to do with me?" the 6-foot-6-inch former Marine replied. "What do you think, I oversee these companies? That's the Defense Department's job. That's not my job. You guys write these stories [but] you don't have a clue what this is all about."
"Jesus Christ," he exclaimed, then left out a back door...
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies raided the offices of KDS, affiliate Kuchera Industries, and its owners' homes in January. Last month, the Navy barred Kuchera from receiving contracts pending the outcome of federal investigations. "That's currently under appeal," Mr. Kuchera said.
Just six booths down, Mr. Murtha also visited Concurrent Technologies Corp., which has a subsidiary under investigation, too. Starting with 13 employees 22 years ago in Johnstown, the research and development firm now employs 1,500 in 20 offices nationwide...
The investigations continue. A federal grand jury has subpoenaed records of another appropriations committee member, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Indiana, in a criminal probe involving PMA Group, a lobbying firm tied to Mr. Murtha that specialized in providing congressional earmarks to defense contractors.
Johnstown, the defense industry and Mr. Murtha are inexorably linked. The show is certainly about him -- look hard enough and the congressman is in almost every photo in its official brochure, like a game of "Where's Waldo?" It is also about linking small, local firms to big, international ones...
That is the reason Mr. Murtha created the show and why he keeps pushing it now, even as investigators look into the web of federal funding, lobbying, contracts and campaign contributions around him. It is why he told the Post-Gazette in March that "If I'm corrupt, it's because I take care of my district."
First let's get Murtha's self-serving lie out of the way: oversight is his job. It's even written into the rules of the House:
The various standing committees shall have general oversight responsibilities as provided in paragraph (b) in order to assist the House in
(1) its analysis, appraisal, and evaluation of—
(A) the application, administration, execution, and effectiveness of Federal laws; and
(B) conditions and circumstances that may indicate the necessity or desirability of enacting new or additional legislation; and
(2) its formulation, consideration, and enactment of changes in Federal laws, and of such additional legislation as may be necessary or appropriate.
Murtha doesn't like this part of the job, of course. He's in the business of wasting federal money with earmarks, and passing the money out to people whom he knows will make donations back to him. The minute he admits that he has any role in rooting out wasteful and corrupt spending is the minute he has to resign in shame. It's the reason that so much of the money he passes out in earmarks will ultimately wind up in his defense fund.