- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Online exclusive: updated 2:25 p.m.

Senators hoping to improve Washington’s image are spending this afternoon debating a measure to curb the influence of lobbyists.

The Senate was considering a broad measure by Sen. Trent Lott that bans the typical practice of lobbyists treating lawmakers to meals at swanky restaurants and requires members to take an ethics training course, among other things.

This afternoon, lawmakers expedited a dozen amendments to the Mississippi Republican’s bill in anticipation of a final vote in the early evening. The amendments tackled elements ranging from corporate jet travel to defining clients of lobbyists.

Senators soundly rejected one amendment by Sen. Russell D. Feingold that defines a lobbyist as anyone employed by a company that has a registered lobbyist on the payroll.

“The era of the free lunch will be over for real,” the Wisconsin Democrat said.

He said his amendment was needed to close a loophole that would allow lobbyists to skirt the ban on gifts and meals, but critics, who voted 68-30 against the amendment, said the amendment went “too far” and would literally apply to “millions” of citizens who are not lobbyists.

Mr. Lott said the amendment would take the reform from the “sublime to the ridiculous,” particularly because those defying the restriction could be subject to a $100,000 maximum fine.

Mr. Feingold balked at opponents, saying if they have a problem with it, “All you have to do is foot the bill. … There is just no problem, though, with paying your own way.”

Mr. Feingold, thought to be considering a 2008 White House bid, added that he thinks the meals ban contains a loophole that ultimately will embarrass lawmakers.

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