- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist yesterday started negotiating with Senate Democrats in anticipation of passing measures this week to curb the influence of lobbyists.

Senators today are expected to debate the merits of Sen. Trent Lott’s bill that limits members’ ability to insert “pork-barrel” spending into conference reports, puts stricter regulations on travel, restricts lobbyists from going onto the floor of the House or Senate and requires members to disclose gifts from lobbyists on their Web sites, among other things.

Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican, told reporters yesterday he is working with Democratic members to work out a compromise and he thinks the Senate is “very close” to completing the bill.

“It will take participation, collaboration and cooperation,” he said, speculating an agreement could be reached in a few hours.

Lawmakers were supposed to start the lobbying reform measure last night, but the Judiciary Committee passed a sweeping reform measure dealing with border enforcement and guest workers that dominated most of the evening.

The election-year lobbying reform efforts are an attempt to show lawmakers will not tolerate abuses, such as those that led to the prison sentence of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who admitted taking bribes, and the guilty plea of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. After the two scandals, House and Senate leaders pledged to quickly reform their own rules.

Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, has said his bill would add “clarity” and “transparency” to the legislative process.

There are more than 70 proposed amendments to the measure. Mr. Lott resisted one amendment earlier this month that would impose an all-out ban on lobbyists paying for meals. He said the amendment was demeaning to lawmakers because it implied they could “be had for the price of a lunch or a dinner.”

The proposed bill requires that pork-barrel spending, officially known as earmarks, be clearly listed and disclosed on the Internet 24 hours before the final vote on any spending bills.

The bill allows members to accept a meal from a lobbyist, as long as the value and paying person is publicly disclosed. It also adds disclosure requirements for travel.

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