Dems Keep Promise: House Passes Ethics Bill genre: Econ-Recon & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

What Pork?

When Nancy Pelosi stated that this Democratic Congress would be "the most honest, ethical, and open Congress in history", I'll admit I was skeptical though hopeful. Not long ago, I wrote that the much touted ethics reform seemed to be missing in action but today it looks like the Democrats have delivered much of what they promised with the passage of a comprehensive Ethics Bill.

While it appears that the bill may have omitted some of the reforms that have been discussed and suggested, for the most part, the legislation should be a huge step towards limiting the practice of purse string politics. Additionally, passage of the measure should help to bolster the dismal approval ratings of Congress and provide the Democrats with another achievement to tout in their 2008 election efforts.

The bill, drafted by Democratic leaders, passed by a vote of 411 to 8. It would require House and Senate members to disclose those lobbyists who raise $15,000 or more for them within a six-month period by "bundling" donations from many people. It also would bar lobbyists and their clients from giving gifts, including meals and tickets, to lawmakers.

Senators seeking targeted spending projects or "earmarks" would have to publicize their plans 48 hours before the Senate votes on the proposals in publicly available data bases, and declare their families would not directly benefit financially. The House made similar changes to its rules governing earmarks in January.

House members approved the new legislation even though some privately grumbled that it would complicate their fundraising efforts. Senate leaders expect opposition from some conservative Republicans, but they predicted final passage of the measure by week's end.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, signaled the bill will meet resistance in the Senate. It "guts key earmark reforms that both houses of Congress approved overwhelmingly," he said.

Coburn particularly objected to a revision that would allow committee chairmen or the Senate majority leader -- not the Senate parliamentarian -- to rule on whether earmark disclosure requirements have been met.

No doubt there will be efforts to subvert the intent of the bill as politicians, driven by the need to raise campaign funds, will look for loopholes to exploit. Hopefully, the measure can be the first step towards refocusing elected officials on public service and good governance rather than the perpetual need to pander to powerful interest groups who dangle perks in exchange for pledges of financial support.

More importantly, I would hope the renewed focus on ethical behavior would begin to shift voter perceptions. Unfortunately, many voters have become so disenchanted with the state of affairs in Washington that they see little difference between the two parties and therefore even less reason to vote. That complacency has become a tacit acceptance of the bad behavior and an opportunity for politicians to further push the limits of propriety.

Lastly, while many constituents have grown to accept pork barrel politics...the practice of attaching earmarks to legislation for the funding of pet projects intended to benefit those they represent, perhaps politicians can begin to think beyond the narrow objectives that have made it more difficult to pass important measures.

For example, when efforts to require vehicles to achieve better mileage efficiencies are repeatedly defeated by politicians from those districts in which automobile manufacturing is a mainstay of the economy, the goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil is thwarted. When that happens with virtually every issue, progress on overarching national issues becomes cumbersome, if not impossible.

Hopefully, this step towards reform will reduce the influence of special interest groups and allow elected officials to address important issues that have become mired down in the minutiae of manipulative lobbying.

For this legislation to work, voters will also need to adjust their "what's in it for me" mindset. The days of overlooking the unethical actions of one's representative because he or she was able to "bring home the bacon" must cease to exist. While it is easy to blame our elected officials, isn't it also time for voters to admit our role as enablers and recommit ourselves and our country to the advancement of the greater good?

Tagged as: Corruption, Earmarks, Ethics Reform, House of Representatives, Lobbying, Nancy Pelosi

Daniel DiRito | July 31, 2007 | 11:43 AM
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