Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Senate yesterday voted unanimously to bar congressional lawmakers convicted of corruption from collecting federal pensions, and Democrats vowed to drop opposition to a comprehensive approach to pork-barrel-spending reform.

The pension measure, an amendment to an ethics and lobbying bill in the new Democratic-controlled Senate, applies to current and future lawmakers convicted of bribery, conspiracy and perjury charges. It passed 87-0.

“With this vote, we are preventing members of Congress who steal or cheat from receiving a lifelong pension that is paid for by the taxpayers,” said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, co-sponsor of the pension proposal with fellow Democrat Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado.

“Those lawmakers deserve nothing but shame.”

Democrats lauded yesterday’s vote as a victory over the “culture of corruption” they say permeated Congress under Republican rule. They regularly cited former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican, who was convicted of bribery in 2005.

The measure, however, is not retroactive, so Cunningham will receive his $64,000 pension annually as will at least 16 other convicted lawmakers, 12 Democrats and four Republicans. Former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, who was convicted of mail fraud in 1996, will collect about $126,000 annually.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders said they will now allow a vote on a Republican pork-reform proposal that was imperiled Thursday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, used a procedural tactic to delay a vote.

The pork reform proposal by Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican — also an amendment to the ethics bill — would require that members of Congress disclose all requests for pork projects, also known as earmarks, that often are buried in complicated legislation.

Immediately before Mr. Reid stopped a vote Thursday on the amendment, the Senate expressed its support by rejecting a bid to kill it on a 51-46 vote.

The maneuver gave Mr. Reid time to turn Democrats against the measure, which is similar to the ethics rules adopted with fanfare last week by the new Democratic-led House.

The episode Thursday drew comparisons between House Republicans extending voting time on the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit to allow leaders to persuade members to change their votes — a tactic criticized by Democrats at the time.

Mr. Reid gave a conciliatory speech on the Senate floor yesterday morning, announcing that he was seeking a bipartisan compromise on the proposal to fully disclose pork-barrel spending.

“It was a rather difficult day, as some days are,” Mr. Reid said. “We tend to get in a hurry around here sometimes when we shouldn’t be. We tend to spend a lot of time doing things that accomplish nothing.”

An agreement was reached late yesterday to bring the DeMint amendment to a vote Tuesday evening, after lawmakers return from the Martin Luther King holiday. A vote on the entire ethics bill could come as soon as Wednesday.

Mr. DeMint thanked Mr. Reid for “agreeing to do the right thing” and drafting a compromise amendment that is stronger than his original amendment.

The Senate pension amendment does not go as far as a House bill by Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, which would withhold congressional pensions from lawmakers convicted of any of 21 different felonies.

The Kirk bill includes the felonies of solicitation of political contributions, intimidation to secure political contributions, promises of appointment by a candidate and expenditures to influence voting.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the chamber next week would take up a proposal by Rep. Nancy Boyda, Kansas Democrat, that lawmakers expect will resemble the Senate measure. It had not been filed as of yesterday.

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