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The 105th Congress hasn't gotten off to a memorable start. A public anxious for a balanced budget and real reforms has had to endure seemingly endless partisan bickering over ethics violations by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

But in the end, the news was good for Americans. Any legislative body that would impose such penalties on its own speaker can't be all bad. Critics may argue over the relative severity of the punishment, but a $300,000 fine and a reprimand are substantial. Whether they are substantial enough to deter future ethics lapses by members of the House remains to be seen.In the meantime, however, Congress should put this matter behind it and carry on with the business of government.

Granted, this may be difficult. The Internal Revenue Service has yet to investigate Gingrich, and the Justice Department may get involved. Gingrich must decide whether to use campaign funds to pay the fine, something that would be legal but politically unwise. And Democrats may decide to file further ethics complaints against the speaker.

Republicans, meanwhile, may decide to file a complaint against Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., for leaking an illegally taped phone conversation involving Gingrich. The nation's ethics soap opera may indeed have many more episodes. But no one should be surprised if the public changes the channel.

Utah Rep. Jim Hansen, the newly sworn chairman of the ethics committee, may have the best idea. He wants to privatize the panel, letting a group of judges, business leaders and other outsiders judge future complaints. The system still would involve partisan politics, particularly when it came to appointing panel members. But at least members of Congress would be free to direct most of their attention toward other, more important matters.

And, for a public that elected Congress primarily to govern, not to spend all its time investigating itself, that would be a nice change.