- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2007

The Democratic-led Congress yesterday gave final approval to stricter rules on dealings between lawmakers and lobbyists, and on senators trying to sneak “pork” projects into spending bills.

The legislation, which passed the Senate 83-14, bans most lobbyist gifts to members of Congress — including junkets and lavish parties thrown at political conventions — and makes lawmakers identify lobbyists who bundle more than $15,000 in contributions for them.

It also requires senators to list pet spending projects, known as earmarks, on a public Internet site 48 hours before the bill goes to a vote and to certify that neither they nor their family have a financial interest in the project.

“Democrats today delivered on yet another promise we made to the American people who have asked for a new direction,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

“The American people are sick and tired of the corruption that has plagued this city for the past six years, and we look forward to the president enacting this sorely needed reform,” he said.

President Bush is expected to sign the measure that cleared the House on Tuesday 411-8.

But Republicans supported the measure begrudgingly because it was written behind closed doors and stripped of some of the most far-reaching reforms by Mr. Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

“Instead of draining the swamp, this bill gives the alligators new rights,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, one of the 14 members of his party who cast the “no” votes.

He faulted the bill for giving the majority leader and committee chairman broad discretion to decide whether earmarks are properly disclosed.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is seeking the 2008 Republican nomination for president, also voted against the bill.

He slammed Democrats for watering down the earlier version of the bill that passed the chamber 96-2 and provided for the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian to certify compliance with earmark rules.

“The fact is, this leaves the loophole open,” Mr. McCain said. “This will continue the earmarking and pork-barrel projects. And we are passing up a great opportunity. … The American people will have been deceived.”

Mr. Reid has called the criticisms “unfounded” and cited five government watchdog groups that hailed the legislation, including Common Cause, Public Citizen and the League of Women Voters.

The measure attacks practices that permeated recent corruption scandals involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican. Both are in prison.

Although the new laws will not eliminate opportunities for abuse, they represent the most sweeping ethics reforms to pass Congress since changes enacted following the Watergate scandal.

Under the legislation, senators have to take a one-year “cooling off” period before working as lobbyists and members of Congress will be prohibited from collecting a federal pension if they are convicted of corruption charges.

It also makes members of Congress pay market prices for air travel, ending their free or cut-rate flights on corporate and private jets.

The bill is the third of the Democrats’ top six priorities to reach Mr. Bush’s desk since they took control of Congress this year, a success that will help quell Republican criticism of an unproductive Congress.

The other priorities, part of the “Six for ‘06” agenda, to pass Congress were an increase to the federal minimum wage, which Mr. Bush signed into law in May, and the implementation of the remaining September 11 commission recommendations, which the president also is expected to sign.



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