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Sen. Barak Obama (D-Ill.) turned down an offer on Thursday by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to form a bipartisan task force to write reform legislation, reports Chris Cillizza. Obama is pushing a Democratic bill sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) while McCain has introduced a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Bill Nelson (D-Neb.). The offer apparently was made at a Wednesday meeting convened by McCain to discuss the possibility of bipartisan reform that was also attended by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and David Vitter (R-La.).
Sens. McCain and Obama are leading the charge on preemptively adopting ethics reforms that may be passed this year: both have quit using corporate-subsidized travel in the form of corporate jets, reports Roll Call (subscription required). Under current law, members of Congress are allowed to take a corporate Lear jet across the country and only reimburse the owner of the jet for the cost of a first class ticket, which is far less than the cost of the flight. McCain said he would like to see the practice banned and sees a Senate rule change as the first avenue to do so. Additionally, Sen. Reid has barred his office from accepting any gifts from lobbyists and any gifts of travel from anyone but non-profits. This is not a foolproof ban, however, since Public Citizen uncovered last month that the “non-profit” Ripon Society was being used by lobbyists as a front group to fly members of Congress all over the world; the practice was also a favorite of admitted-felon/former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The LA Times has more on resistance to travel reform by members of Congress.
New House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is backing the House Republicans away from reform bills proposed by Sen. McCain and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), reports the Washington Post. Boehner’s office has expressed displeasure at Hastert’s plan to ban all privately funded travel and said that the majority leader endorses “only in concept” McCain’s bill to open every earmark up to challenge. Boehner has signaled that he favors a more disclosure-based approach instead of regulating the relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists. Boehner is expected to push for a plan at a Republican retreat next week. Not everyone is happy with the weak Republican response to the scandal within their ranks. Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) told the Republican conference on Thursday that:
Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff, and the ongoing and disgusting saga of abuse of power and public trust are not just made up by the Democrats… Our entire philosophy is at risk because the American people, and even a large percentage of our own supporters think we have been corrupted.
Roll Call says that legislation to address the Indian gaming aspect of the Abramoff scandal will be introduced by Sen. McCain in his Senate Indian Affairs Committee and by Rep. Pombo (R-Calif.) in his House Resources Committee in the next month or two. The bills could address both the loophole in campaign finance law that allows tribes to make what amounts to corporate campaign contributions to candidates, which are otherwise barred, and the increased regulation of tribal gaming. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) also introduced similar legislation last week.
Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), the former House ethics committee chairman forced out by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Hastert, will introduce ethics reform legislation as early as this week, reports Roll Call. (subscription required)
National Democratic leaders are rushing to put together their 2006 message package, reports Roll Call. (subscription required) The “honesty plank” is said to be the foundation of the agenda, but it remains to be seen how serious Democrats are about reforming the heart of the lawmaker-lobbyist scandals: the money lobbyists raise for lawmaker’s campaigns.
New House Republican majority leader Boehner was been working overtime to dispel any notion that he is any different than DeLay: on Sunday he said he would discuss stepping aside from his post for DeLay should he beat the money laundering conspiracy rap down in Texas. ThinkProgress expands more on the cozy relationship between SallieMae lobbyists and Boehner that Public Citizen pointed out when he was elected majority leader. He also spent time on the Sunday talk shows defending his close ties to lobbyists, reports the LA Times.
Sen. David Inouye (D-Hawaii) and lobbyist Jane Hoover will be honored by a Washington lobbyist group, the Bryce Harlow Foundation, at a black-tie event in April, reports Roll Call.
Bob Novak caught something about Rep. Mike Oxley’s (R-Ohio) loud protestations against revoking the congressional gym privileges for lawmakers-turned-lobbyists: Oxley is retiring this year and is expected to become a lobbyist and will thus lose his own privileges come 2007. [Via ThinkProgress]
The LA Times reports that the Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientific panel lambasted the EPA’s new air pollution regulations that significantly weaken standards for some industries, especially mining and agriculture. Not surprisingly, the changes closely resemble language suggested by industry associations and are supported by the American Mining Association, among others. [Via PoliticalAnimal] Political Animal also notes that it took lobbyist pressure for Bush to take interest his American Competitiveness Initiative, which is aimed at increasing science and technology education.
Matt Stroller says that the Rove 2006 game plan is likely to include the characteristic play of attacking Democrats on their strongest issue, which this year is congressional ethics. Stroller predicts that Republicans will use the moribund House ethics committee as their tool.
The Nation has a story about a U.S. attorney in Guam who was demoted after investigating Abramoff’s dealings there. Now, the FBI and Department of Justice inspector general are reportedly looking into the demotion. [Via TPM Café]
Ezra Klein echoes the sentiment that Democrats were foolish not to have gone after the Republicans on Abramoff and ethics in the SOTU rebuttal.
Fired Up! America caught an ad in last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal in which the National Republican Congressional Committee named and saluted the “2005 Businessmen of the Year” who “have successfully integrated business and financial success with the support of Republican ideals.”
Wavering Republican John Cole has this to say about the Republican congressional response to the Abramoff scandal: “I guess the organized strategy for dealing with corruption really is limited to trying to pretend the Abramoff scandal was bi-partisan, because these clowns clearly have no intention to clean up their own house.” Interestingly, a former lobbyist left a comment on his blog that supports Public Citizen’s thesis that “it’s the money, stupid!”: [Via MyDD]
Legislators know how bad it looks that they are in bed with lobbyists, but the alternative, at least in their minds, is to lose out on a lot of money, which means losing their next election, which means being out of power… When I worked at a lobbying firm, we knew we could count on two things: the politicians would accepts the checks, and they would do what we want. It was just that simple. Even the ones that appear to be more principled are not untouchable, because they all need money to fund their campaigns so they can stay in office.
To us, the system doesn’t work – it is [hopelessly] corrupt. To THEM, the system works just fine as long as they stay in office. That helps to explain Shadegg’s “overreact” comment: sure, he wants reform as long as it helps him and the party publicly, but he doesn’t want Congress’ reform efforts to go so far he finds himself out of a job!
Lobbyist Fundraiser Watch: DeLay will be attending a $2,100 a plate fundraiser at the home of a local lobbyist while he’s in Austin for his various legal obligations.
The Lansing State Journal notes Boehner’s ties to tobacco and SallieMae lobbyists and says “if this is the best Michigan can hope for when it comes to reformist leadership, the worst would be chilling indeed.”
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