- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Lawmakers convicted of crimes such as bribery, fraud and perjury will be stripped of their congressional pensions under legislation the House passed yesterday in the latest effort by Congress to refurbish its scandal-scarred image.

The House voted 431-0 four days after former Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, received a 30-month prison term for taking political favors from Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist whose influence-peddling tactics helped make political corruption a major issue in the November elections.

Ney, as chairman of the House Administration Committee, last year backed similar legislation, saying members of Congress should be held to the highest standards.

“But that bill never passed, for which Congressman Ney is probably grateful,” said freshman Rep. Nancy Boyda, Kansas Democrat and sponsor of the latest measure. “Corrupt politicians deserve prison sentences, not taxpayer-funded pensions.”

The House bill, like its Senate counterpart, is not retroactive and would not affect the benefits available to Ney, who is eligible for a pension of about $29,000 a year if he waits until 2016, when he turns 62.

Also exempt would be former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the California Republican who last year was sentenced to more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty to receiving $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors.

Cunningham could receive about $64,000 annually for his eight terms in Congress and his military service, a benefit that is not subject to forfeiture, according to the National Taxpayers Union, which tracks congressional pensions.

Minor differences with the Senate bill, approved last week as part of larger ethics and lobbying reform, must be reconciled before the measure can be signed into law.

The House measure applies to conduct that occurs after the bill becomes law, while the Senate bill doesn’t take effect until the 2009 congressional session. Senate sponsors, led by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, expressed concerns about violating the 27th Amendment, which bars lawmakers from changing their compensation, mainly raising their own salaries, in a current session.

Under law, pensions can be taken away only if a lawmaker commits crimes such as treason or espionage. The House bill would extend that to other federal felonies related to the performance of official duties.

Those would include bribery of public officials, wrongfully acting as foreign agents and violating restrictions on members becoming lobbyists.

Republicans complained that the bill didn’t go far enough.

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, said he was unable to offer an amendment adding other public corruption felonies to those triggering pension forfeiture, including income tax evasion, wire fraud, intimidation to secure contributions and racketeering.

Republicans, denied opportunities to offer amendments in the first weeks of Democratic rule, also lashed out at last-minute Democratic tinkering on provisions, including when the bill would take effect.

“How this bill has come to the floor is an abomination of the rules,” said Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

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