- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

Senators said yesterday that a consensus exists on tightening rules on pork barrel spending and reining in gifts to members, but some said the current system already should have caught corrupt politicians.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, said that while he supports many of the proposed changes, he fears that Congress is trying to create new rules in situations in which personal restraint and existing rules should be working.

“It worries me — we’re moving away from this notion of personal responsibility,” he said at a Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing yesterday.

Every year, the Senate Office of Public Records receives 45,000 filings from lobbyists and since 2003 has forwarded 2,000 cases to the Department of Justice, but not much action has been taken.

“Before we start talking about what needs to be done, we need to get the existing system operating,” he said.

Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican and the committee chairman, said the panel will look at the current situation and will have its members report on which changes are needed to make the rules more enforceable.

While changing current rules is a future consideration, members said there is broad agreement to crack down on earmarks, which some call pork barrel spending — not by eliminating them entirely, but by making it easier to force votes on them and to have members acknowledge which earmarks are theirs.

“This is an area we should be able to move on quickly,” said Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat.

The committee will meet the week of Feb. 27 to mark up a bill, Mr. Lott said.

One area that’s proving more difficult is travel paid for by private interests. While that’s one of the key accusations against former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, some members are resisting the idea of ending all third-party travel.

While House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, has proposed ending privately funded travel, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said travels serve a purpose — but the trips should be cleared first.

Several senators said rule changes on earmarks, lobbying, meals and gifts will not do anything as long as the campaign-finance system remains unchanged.

“The reason some of us end up dining with certain people is not because we greatly enjoy their company, but because we need their help,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

Mr. Lott said Congress must address 527s — the organizations created by groups such as MoveOn.org and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to get around the 2002 campaign finance law changes — and said he will push for Republican leaders to bring up a separate bill on that issue this year.

Also yesterday Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama appeared to have made up after Mr. McCain sent an acerbic letter to Mr. Obama earlier this week. Mr. McCain had accused Mr. Obama of going back on an earlier pledge and trying to turn reforms into a political issue.

Yesterday, Mr. McCain said he and Mr. Obama “are moving on,” and Mr. Obama joked that Mr. McCain was his “pen pal.”

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