At a time when legal services for the poor are under attack in the U. S. House of Representatives, an obscure provision in the House Commerce-Justice-State-Judiciary Appropriations bill would enact a new "legal services program" for Members of Congress. The provision could also deter the Justice Department from prosecuting Members of Congress.
Under the provision, if the Justice Department loses a case against a Member of Congress, the Member would be reimbursed by the Justice Department "for any legal expenses and other legitimate expenses" incurred "in connection with" the prosecution. The provision was advanced by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), and approved on July 22 by voice vote in the full House Appropriations Committee. The Commerce appropriations bill is expected to hit the House floor sometime next week.
"We shouldn't be creating special new welfare programs for politicians," said Gary Ruskin, Director of the Congressional Accountability Project. "If Members of Congress can't afford to hire a lawyer, they can get a public defender, just like anyone else. Members of Congress already earn $133,600 per year -- they don't need another perk or government handout."
The provision states that "Any Member of Congress and any individual who is paid by the Clerk of the House of Representatives or the Secretary of the Senate shall be entitled to receive a reimbursement for any legal expenses and other legitimate expenses incurred by such Member or individual in connection with a Department of Justice prosecution arising from or in connection with the performance of official duties and brought against such Member or individual if such Member or individual is acquitted of the charges brought, the charges are dismissed by a court, or the conviction is reversed on appeal."