- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

Republican leaders in the House reached a last-minute deal yesterday to save a bill that includes the most significant reform in recent history to the process by which billions of dollars in federal “pork” are doled out each year in political favors.

The reforms — part of a much larger bill aimed at curtailing the influence of lobbyists on Congress — would require greater disclosure about special projects inserted into spending bills by lawmakers, also known as earmarks or pork. Most significantly, the legislation would require members of Congress to attach their names to their proposed earmarks, which sometimes are inserted secretly and anonymously.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner said Republicans are committed to fixing the problems that led to abuses such as the bribery scandal involving former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a California Republican who was sentenced to eight years in prison.

“This really does allow us to make some real reforms,” the Ohio Republican said. “Changing anything here in Washington is almost impossible. The status quo is a powerful force.”

Yesterday’s largely party-line 216-207 vote was on a procedural motion that paves the way for a final vote on the bill in the House next week.

For much of yesterday, however, the legislation appeared to be doomed.

Shortly after the vote, one Democrat hurriedly issued a press release with a subject line: “GOP Lobby Bill Dies in the U.S. House.”

Yesterday morning, Republican leaders brought the bill to the floor for debate. But they quickly shut down floor discussion and pulled the bill because of strong opposition from Republican members of the influential Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for approving all spending by the federal government. Leading that opposition was Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, California Republican.

Throughout the day, Republicans huddled in closed meetings, searching for a deal that would win the handful of votes needed from the Republican appropriators to pass the bill. Only as the vote began on the House floor did word begin to leak out that a deal had been reached to save House Republican leadership from an embarrassing defeat on high-profile legislation.

Afterward, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said, “In the eight years I’ve been whip and chief deputy whip, I was never less certain five minutes before we started the vote.”

Democrats, who were unanimous in their opposition, derided the bill.

“Tragically, the party of Abraham Lincoln has become the party of Abramoff,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Texas Democrat, said in reference to casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who recently pleaded guilty in a federal corruption case.

“With all of your special interest wining and dining, what a Grand Old Party it is,” Mr. Doggett said on the floor before the vote. “But it is a grand party for everyone but the taxpayers, who have to pick up the tab.”

Before the vote, House Rules Chairman David Dreier, California Republican, said Republicans wanted “to ensure that the tragic problem of corruption that we have witnessed will never happen again.”

He went on to say, “The Republican Party is the party of reform.”

When Mr. Dreier was done, Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, responded: “I want to congratulate the gentleman from California for giving that speech with a straight face.”

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