Via TPM Muckraker, Senator Tom Coburn has demanded a joint House-Senate investigation of the circumstances that led to the infamous Coconut Road earmark language, which was inserted into the 2005 Transportation Bill (allegedly on instructions of staff for then-House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young) after final passage of the bill. Taxpayers for Common Sense had requested that the House Ethics Committee investigate the matter, but that request has predictably gone nowhere.
As I noted in a previous post, because this matter presents, at least at the outset, primarily a question of possible violations of parliamentary rules, practice or precedent, the House Ethics Committee is unlikely to take it up. It would be more appropriately investigated by a special panel or task force like that which was established to review the “stolen vote” on the 2008 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. In fact, I suggested that the House could broaden the mandate of the “stolen vote” vote panel to encompass this matter.
Senator Coburn’s proposal that a special House-Senate panel be created also makes a certain amount of sense. After all, because the House Enrolling Clerk evidently inserted language into the enrolled bill that the Senate had not agreed to, the Senate’s interests are directly implicated in a way that they would not be by more typical malfeasance or impropriety internal to the House.
Nonetheless, establishing a joint committee for this purpose would raise constitutional issues since Article I makes each House solely responsible for determining its own rules and disciplining its own members. Perhaps more importantly, it seems unlikely that either the House or Senate leadership will wish to establish a precedent for involvement of one body in the internal governance of the other.
At the end of the day, the best Senator Coburn can hope to do is to get a commitment from the House that it will investigate the matter and (perhaps) provide the Senate with a report of its conclusions. This would be a substantial accomplishment, however, and we here at Point of Order wish him the best.