- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The House is poised to ban former members of Congress who have become lobbyists from both the House floor and members’ gym as the first step in what will be a months-long lobbying and ethics-reform debate.

Democrats called the changes nearly inconsequential in the scope of serious corruption charges, and said it was a strange place to start.

“Well whoop-de-do,” said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat. “If I were prioritizing, I would want to go after the worst thing on the day of theater.”

The changes, which passed the House Rules Committee by voice vote yesterday and were sent to the full House for a vote today, would prohibit former members who are lobbyists from the House floor. Former members and their spouses who are lobbyists would not be allowed in the gym.

The House Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing today on a proposal to forfeit the pensions of anyone in the legislative branch or political appointees in the executive branch who are convicted of corruption charges.

The proposal is aimed at lawmakers such as former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican, who resigned last year and pleaded guilty to tax evasion and conspiring to taking bribes in return for steering legislation a particular way.

The lobbying change is aimed at a more vague concern: that former members of Congress are using their privileges for access that other lobbyists and the public at large do not have.

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, California Republican, called the change a “first step in the process” and said the House would address all concerns that Democrats have raised.

“It’s not as if tomorrow is going to be the last time we consider this,” he said.

He is working on a broad package of reforms that include an end to privately funded travel and more restrictions to the types of gifts that members and staff can accept.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said gym and floor restrictions were minuscule. “If you gave me a billion dollars, I could not tell you where [the gym] is,” said the congresswoman of nearly 20 years.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he has been going to the members’ gym for 24 years but has never been lobbied, though he added, “Of course I’m pretty ugly naked.”

Some lawmakers said Mr. Dreier erred by stopping at gym privileges.

Rep. Vic Snyder, Arkansas Democrat, wants to end the special privileges — including parking and security access — of any member of Congress who becomes a lobbyist.

Mr. Hastings said Congress is “doing a pretty good job of eating itself” by going after retired members.

“We should not do former members this way. We should look upon them as a resource,” Mr. Hastings said.

Amy Fagan contributed to this article.

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