Thursday, January 18, 2007

Senate Passes Weakened Ethics Bill

Senate Democrats, anxious to demonstrate that there is a "new" way of doing the people's business, struggled through a week of Republican maneuvers and wingnut opposition to pass ethics reform legislation by an overwhelming 96-2 vote late Thursday evening.

The vote came after the bill, S.1, appeared dead in the water due to the proposal to attach a line-item veto amendment to the legislation. Harry Reid offered a compromise, permitting the line-item legislation to come up before the spring recess. But Senator Byrd vigorously opposed the deal on the principle that it was what he termed "legislative blackmail". After repeated quorum calls, the Senate chamber began filling up around 8 pm and it appeared a compromise had been reached.

The Democrats would permit the line-item veto legislation to be proposed for attachment to the minimum wage legislation that the Senate is expected to take up on Monday.

S.1 did not make it through unscathed, however. Wingnut misrepresentation over what the bill actually said carried the day, as the Bennett amendment, to strip out the guts of Section 220 of the bill, requiring stealth advertisers, like the swiftboaters, to register under the lobbying rules, was passed. The Senate also refused to accept an amendment creating an Office of Public Integrity to have authority to investigate ethical lapses of members of Congress -- the Congress wants to retain that power (too much danger inherent in turning it over to an independent agency).

Nevertheless, the bill finally did pass. The Senate Bill, as passed, would:
--Bar lawmakers from accepting gifts and travel paid for by lobbyists.
--Extend from one to two years the time a former member must wait before he lobbies Congress.
--Deny pensions to lawmakers convicted of serious crimes.
--Require more reporting by lobbyists on their activities.
--Require public disclosure of those home-state projects.
--Require senators hitching rides on private jets to pay full charter rates rather than the current practice of paying the far cheaper equivalent of a first class ticket.
Next month, the House will take up similar legislation on lobby reform and set up a conference to work out the final reforms.


Robin said...

What do you think of the line item compromise? That poor minimum wage bill is going to be heavier than dark matter.

Blue Wren said...

Well, it's a start, anyway, and puts in place a number of good checks on corruption. I hope the line-item-veto thing doesn't kill raising the minimum wage, though.

The Nog said...

Whew. We dodged a bullet and prevented the Democrats from stifling incumbent criticism. Long live freedom of speech.

A Big Fat Slob said...

Robin, at first I was a little ticked when I heard that Byrd scuttled the compromise. But after reading his floor comments, I saw his point -- give in to blackmail now and it will only be worse later.

But, I am, a little unsure why he agreed to let it be proposed for attachment to the minimum wage bill. He rejected Reid's promise to let the line-item legislation come up ala carte. I don't understand why he then agreed to let it come in attached to a measure on which there is broad bi-partisan support, at least in principle.

I agree with Blue, it is a start and the Congress is better with the bill than without it. There appears to be very broad support in the House for the reform as well.

Unfortunately, 220 was pulled from the measure, due largely to the flat-out false alarmist claims as to what it said and meant, which got our right wing firends all up and ranting. I spoke to Specter's office before the vote and they told me that they had received over a hundred calls on the Bennett amendment -- the noise machine got their robotic army to dial in.

But it was fun watching the process. Thank god for C-Span. Watching the proceedings live, I couldn't help but speculate how Jefferson and Franklin might have crafted things different in an environment where such universal access to Congress were available. The House of Representatives could have been a button in your living room. That's for another day, I guess.

Thanks for the contributions, including you, citizen nog.