Watergate toppled a president; scandals in the outgoing 109th Congress pale by comparison. Or do they? According to Gallup, Richard Nixon’s abysmal approval rating at the depth of his ignominy - 27 per cent favourable to 63 per cent unfavourable — was virtually identical to public sentiment about Congress just before this year’s election — 26 to 63 per cent.

Voters this year cared more about ethics and political corruption than about Iraq or the economy, according to exit polls.

The message should be clear and resounding: When the new Congress convenes in January, its first priority will be to rescue itself. If it enacts significant reforms promptly, the legislative branch may be able to provide badly needed leadership on issues domestic and foreign.

Democrats are now planning to put ethics in the forefront of their 100-hour incoming blitz. It’s expected that the package will include the following restrictions on all members of Congress: A total gift ban, eliminating the $50 per item and $100 aggregate limits now in place; the elimination of charter flights at reduced fares; the banning of all travel sponsored by lobbyists or organisations with an interest in legislation. If written tightly, this package would be a step forward, but only a small step.