Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.

One of the vaunted virtues of our American system is its checks and balances, rooted in the idea that each of a government's three branches can limit the powers of the others.

But from Mineola to Washington, any hope that lawmakers will check the executive branch with reasonable detachment seems to keep getting lost in the fog of partisan gamesmanship.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) abruptly dropped out of the running Thursday to succeed retiring Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) as House speaker. In the short time he was a candidate, he managed to hand former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a public-relations gift.

It came as Fox News' Sean Hannity questioned him on his commitment to conservative goals. McCarthy said: "What you're going to see is a conservative speaker that takes a conservative Congress that puts a strategy [in place] to fight and win.

"And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's un-trustable."

Clinton trumpeted this as evidence that the GOP-run House homed in on the fatal attack by Islamic militants on an American compound three years ago in Libya for suspect reasons. "The Republicans finally admit it," says an announcer in Clinton's subsequent ad. "The Republicans have spent millions attacking Hillary because she's fighting for everything they oppose."

The spin always runs both ways. Congressional Democrats' cries of concern about presidential overreach and control of information waned with Barack Obama taking the White House, just as they commenced on the GOP side.

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Checks and balances can work or falter in different ways.

The GOP legislative majority in Nassau (and the Democratic minority) on Wednesday announced opposition to a 1.2 percent property tax hike requested by Republican County Executive Edward Mangano.

No fact-finding or deep thought was needed. The county's 19 legislators face re-election next month; Mangano does not. So at least for now, they're saying no, as in: "Thank you, Ed Mangano, for letting us reject a tax hike."

Another matter now in the news may or may not get the legislative investigation it seems to merit.

After finding "incompetent and deficient" medical care by the Nassau County's jail contractor in the case of an inmate death, the state Commission of Correction specifically called for the county legislature to probe the performance of the company, Armor Correctional Health Services.

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If they choose, lawmakers also could assess whether the Mangano administration's hiring of Armor produced the millions of dollars in cost savings first projected.

They could judge for themselves whether similar problems existed before this "private-public partnership" -- as touted for years by Mangano -- came to be.

A legislative committee could say for the record whether it believes political contributions bear any relevance here.

Its members could compare notes with peers in Niagara County where Armor, hired in 2012 to provide health and mental health services, is due to be replaced next month.

Or the powers-that-be in the legislature could just let it slide -- and forget all that checks-and-balances stuff.