Se­nate ap­proves ethics bill that lim­its lob­by­ists, pork

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By S.A. Miller

The Demo­cratic-led Congress on Aug. 2 gave fi­nal ap­proval to stricter rules on deal­ings be­tween law­mak­ers and lob­by­ists, and on sen­a­tors try­ing to sneak “pork” projects into spend­ing bills.

The leg­is­la­tion, which passed the Se­nate 83-14, bans most lob­by­ist gifts to mem­bers of Congress — in­clud­ing jun­kets and lav­ish par­ties thrown at po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions — and makes law­mak­ers iden­tify lob­by­ists who bun­dle more than $15,000 in con­tri­bu­tions for them.

It also re­quires sen­a­tors to list pet spend­ing projects, known as ear­marks, on a pub­lic In­ter­net site 48 hours be­fore the bill goes to a vote and to cer­tify that nei­ther they nor their fam­ily have a fi­nan­cial in­ter­est in the project.

“Democrats to­day de­liv­ered on yet an­other prom­ise we made to the Amer­i­can peo­ple who have asked for a new di­rec­tion,” said Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple are sick and tired of the cor­rup­tion that has plagued this city for the past six years, and we look for­ward to the pres­i­dent en­act­ing this sorely needed re­form,” he said.

Pres­i­dent Bush is ex­pected to sign the mea­sure that cleared the House on July 31 411-8.

But Repub­li­cans sup­ported the mea­sure be­grudg­ingly be­cause it was writ­ten be­hind closed doors and stripped of some of the most far-reach­ing re­forms by Mr. Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat.

“In­stead of drain­ing the swamp, this bill gives the al­li­ga­tors new rights,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Repub­li­can, one of the 14 mem­bers of his party who cast the “no” votes.

He faulted the bill for giv­ing the ma­jor­ity leader and com­mit­tee chair­man broad dis­cre­tion to de­cide whether ear­marks are prop­erly dis­closed.

Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona, who is seek­ing the 2008 Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent, also voted against the bill.

He slammed Democrats for wa­ter­ing down the ear­lier ver­sion of the bill that passed the cham­ber 96-2 and pro­vided for the non­par­ti­san Se­nate par­lia­men­tar­ian to cer­tify com­pli­ance with ear­mark rules.

“The fact is, this leaves the loophole open,” Mr. McCain said. “This will con­tinue the ear­mark­ing and pork-bar­rel projects. And we are pass­ing up a great op­por­tu­nity. [. . .] The Amer­i­can peo­ple will have been de­ceived.”

Mr. Reid has called the crit­i­cisms “un­founded” and cited five gov­ern­ment watch­dog groups that hailed the leg­is­la­tion, in­clud­ing Com­mon Cause, Pub­lic Cit­i­zen and the League of Women Vot­ers.

The mea­sure at­tacks prac­tices that per­me­ated re­cent cor­rup­tion scan­dals in­volv­ing for­mer lob­by­ist Jack Abramoff and for­mer Rep. Randy “Duke” Cun­ning­ham, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can. Both are in prison.

Al­though the new laws will not elim­i­nate op­por­tu­ni­ties for abuse, they rep­re­sent the most sweep­ing ethics re­forms to pass Congress since changes en­acted fol­low­ing the Water­gate scan­dal.

Un­der the leg­is­la­tion, sen­a­tors have to take a one-year “cool­ing off” pe­riod be­fore work­ing as lob­by­ists and mem­bers of Congress will be pro­hib­ited from col­lect­ing a fed­eral pen­sion if they are con­victed of corr up­tion charges.

It also makes mem­bers of Congress pay mar­ket prices for air travel, end­ing their free or cut-rate flights on cor­po­rate and private jets.

The bill is the third of the Democrats’ top six pri­or­i­ties to reach Mr. Bush’s desk since they took con­trol of Congress this year, a suc­cess that will help quell Repub­li­can crit­i­cism of an un­pro­duc­tive Congress.

The other pri­or­i­ties, part of the “Six for ’06” agenda, to pass Congress were an in­crease to the fed­eral min­i­mum wage, which Mr. Bush signed into law in May, and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the re­main­ing Septem­ber 11 com­mis­sion rec­om­men­da­tions, which the pres­i­dent also is ex­pected to sign.

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