- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

Democratic leaders yesterday signed a “Contract With America”-style pledge to dramatically curb lobbyists’ influence in Washington, as they declared an all-out campaign against Republicans on ethics accusations.

“We’re going to take our country back, and we throw the gauntlet down today,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter of New York, who, as the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, is the party’s leader on lobby reforms.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California led dozens of Democrats to the Great Hall of the Library of Congress to watch as the Democratic leaders signed the “Democratic Declaration of Honest Leadership and Open Government,” a list of changes to the way Congress operates.

They promised to bring more sunshine as legislation moves through Congress; demand more disclosure from lobbyists; ban gifts from lobbyists, including entertainment, meals and travel; and put more distance between Congress and former top staffers, administration officials and lawmakers who become lobbyists.

“With this agenda, Democrats will create the most open and honest government in history, and put power back where it belongs — in the hands of all the people,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

Lobbying and ethics — issues that had been simmering for years — exploded earlier this month when Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to corruption charges and agreed to work with Justice Department prosecutors.

Democrats say the complaints are just a symptom of how Republicans have run Congress since taking over in 1995, and they promised to undo many Republican accomplishments including the energy bill and the prescription-drug plan that was part of the 2003 Medicare overhaul.

But Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and one of three candidates running to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas as majority leader, said Democrats have their own history of corruption.

“Our standards are higher than the standards that were held by the Democratic majority we replaced after 1994,” he said. “We are repulsed at Abramoff and his crimes, in part, because they remind us of the corruption we uprooted and stamped out when we took the majority away from the Democrats a decade ago.”

Republicans have argued the Abramoff scandals will affect all of Congress, but Democrats yesterday said that’s not true.

“Jack Abramoff is a Republican scandal,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, while Mr. Reid emphatically denied accusations that he can be tied to Mr. Abramoff through Indian tribes’ contributions and through a former Reid staff member who reportedly was part of Mr. Abramoff’s team.

“Jack Abramoff gave money only to Republicans. I don’t know the man, never seen him, as far as I know, never been in the same building with him,” Mr. Reid said.

He said Democrats will force the White House to address the issue as well. Today, Senate Democrats are expected to send a letter to a handful of senior White House aides asking them to detail any contacts they’ve had with Mr. Abramoff.

House and Senate Republicans, in separate press conferences Tuesday, committed to ending privately sponsored travel, to increasing lobbying disclosure, to clamping down on gifts to members and staff, to removing floor privileges from former members who are now lobbyists and to increasing the time between a lawmaker or staffer leaving Congress and when he may begin to lobby.

The Republicans are not likely to announce specific legislation for weeks; Democrats say their bill could be introduced as early as today.

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said Democrats should work together with Republicans “rather than engaging in divisive partisan politics that will further erode, rather than strengthen, public confidence and trust in America’s elected officials.”

Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said Democrats “look like a bunch of rodeo clowns creating distractions. They are hoping that Americans don’t notice their lack of ideas or solutions for today’s challenges.”

Republicans also charged that Democrats violated Library of Congress rules by holding their event there. The guidelines, posted on the library’s Web site (www.loc.gov), say it may not be used for political events or press conferences.

Jill Brett, a spokeswoman for the library, said that if staff members get a request from leaders of either party in Congress, they occasionally “make available library spaces for legislative business, such as meetings, policy-planning conferences and press briefings.”

Democratic aides said it was a policy event that was approved through the library in advance.

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