- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The public would know when a senator has a drink on a lobbyist’s tab or quietly inserts a pet project into legislation under a measure that won unanimous approval yesterday from a Senate committee.

The 17-0 Rules Committee vote was the Senate’s first stab at cleaning up the image of lawmakers tarnished two months ago when former lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty in a federal corruption investigation involving the use of millions of dollars to influence policy.

The measure, sponsored by committee Chairman Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, emphasizes greater transparency in interactions with lobbyists. Lawmakers still could accept food and drinks from a lobbyist, but would have to post the value of the meal on their Web sites within 15 days.

Privately funded trips would have to be preapproved by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics and members would have to file a report on events attended during the trip and the names of accompanying lobbyists.

Members catching rides on corporate jets for official trips would have to list the names of all those on the plane, including lobbyists.

The reputation of the Senate is at stake, said Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, a member of the Rules Committee, in calling for strong lobbying-reform measures. Currently, he said, “the used-car salesman is about one notch above us.”

The Rules Committee vote was the first in what should be a series of actions in the coming weeks to reduce the taint of scandal as legislators face disillusioned voters in an election year.

Tomorrow, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee takes up a more comprehensive bill, sponsored by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat.

The full Senate could consider a combination of the two bills as early as next week.

House Republican leaders also have promised far-reaching changes in lobbying rules, although they have been slowed by dissension in their own ranks.

House Rules Committee aides said they may push for a temporary ban on all privately funded travel pending a study on how to differentiate legitimate fact-finding missions from fun-in-the-sun outings to warm-weather resorts.

Mr. Lott’s measure would require earmarks, and the massive bills to which they are often attached, to be made public at least 24 hours before a Senate vote, and allow members to raise a point of order that could eliminate specific earmarks from legislation.

An amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, raised to 60 votes, up from a simple majority in Mr. Lott’s proposal, the votes needed to waive such a point of order.

The committee also approved without opposition an amendment by Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, that would prohibit a retiring senator from negotiating for a job in the private sector until his or her successor has been chosen or elected.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said his party would continue working for “real reform” when the lobbying issue reaches the Senate floor.

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