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Congress Does Right

Weekly commentary by CBS Evening News chief Washington correspondent and Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer.

I know you'll find this shocking but I am about to say something nice about the Congress.

I mean it.

Congress has actually done some pretty decent stuff lately $0151; the House has put itself on a five-day work week. With holidays, they haven't actually worked five days in a row yet, but they've been around the Capitol more than usual. That's important because it means they may even get to know each other.

Working their Wednesday-Thursday schedule in recent years so they could rush home to attend more fundraisers has left Congress a collection of strangers, one reason the debates have become so nasty — and so unproductive.

Equally important, both houses have finally gotten serious about ethics reform.

Mind you, it has taken a slew of indictments and jail terms — on Friday former Ohio Congressman Bob Ney became the latest to head for the hoosegow — but the new rules the House approved and the legislation the Senate passed Friday amount to the toughest reforms since Watergate.

The reforms ban gifts and travel paid for by lobbyists, bar senators' spouses from lobbying, take away pensions of members of Congress convicted of serious crimes, and require public disclosure of who is involved when those secret projects called earmarks are slipped into appropriation bills.

What is breathtaking is not so much that these things have been outlawed, but that they were ever allowed in the first place.

To be sure, there are still some loopholes to be closed, but at least this is a start. How long has it been since we could say even that?

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By Bob Schieffer