What's Happening in Congress?
Read about the House below or jump to the Senate.
House of Representatives - Major Legislative Proposals
On Day One, Speaker Pelosi introduced and the House adopted a rules package of ethics reforms (H. Res. 6), which govern the behavior of members of the House. Read our summary of the rules changes. These rules changes have since been modified somewhat to allow members to attend charity events free of charge and to fly their own private planes for campaign and official purposes.
New lobbying and ethics reforms (H.R. 2316) governing the behavior of those outside the House (i.e. lobbyists and former members of Congress), discussed below under the “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act,” were adopted months later on May 24, 2007.
The rules package was quickly debated and approved that night by a near-unanimous vote of 430-to-1. (Only Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., opposed the new rules.) The lopsided vote in favor of the new ethics rules is ironic, given that a majority of these same members steadfastly opposed the same rules last year, prior to the November election.
The new ethics rules are quite sweeping in scope and signal that the Democratic majority in the House appears committed to serious lobbying and ethics reform. The new rules include:
- Ban on gifts from lobbyists and organizations that employ lobbyists.
- Value tickets to sporting events and concerts at real face value for purposes of the gift limits.
- Prohibit organizations that employ lobbyists (other than universities) from arranging or financing trips for members and staff, except for one-day trips.
- Prohibit registered lobbyists from attending privately-sponsored trips.
- Require pre-approval by the chair and ranking member of the ethics committee for permissible trips, which is public information.
- Prohibit members and staff from flying on private corporate jets for personal, official or campaign purposes.
- End the K Street project.
- Identify all earmarks with congressional sponsors.
Rep. Pelosi's "Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007"
After languishing for months largely because of intra-party squabbles within the Democratic caucus, the House finally approved the “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007” (H.R. 2316) on May 24, 2007. The bill must now be reconciled with the Senate lobbying and ethics reform package in conference committee.
The House statutory reform package, which governs lobbyists and those who are not current members of the House, faced some stiff opposition, especially from long-term Democratic members. (Read an op-ed piece describing the legislative battle, “The Illusionist: What Reform Opposition?")
Pelosi’s reform package, which started as a comprehensive reform package based on last year’s H.R. 4682, was steadily chipped away at in committee. In the final mark-up before the House Judiciary Committee, even the revolving door restriction was stripped from the measure in exchange for a committee vote to send the rest of the measure to the floor. The package was accompanied by another bill (H.R. 2317), calling for disclosure of bundled contributions from lobbyists, which was seen as too controversial among Democrats to include in the reform package itself.
Ironically, during floor debate on May 24, the Republican caucus offered a “motion to recommit with instructions” that attached the bundling provision to the entire bill, required lobbyists to disclose earmarks sought, removed state and local governments from the exemption to the gift restrictions, and prohibited congressional staff who previously served as lobbyists from making official contacts with their previous employers for one year. (Read the Motion to Recommit here).
The entire lobbying and ethics reform package was then approved overwhelmingly by a vote of 396-to-22. It now awaits reconciliation with S. 1 in conference committee before the legislation is sent back to both chambers for final approval. The key issue that will have to be resolved in conference committee is whether to strengthen the revolving door restriction.
On a separate track, Speaker Pelosi has created a Task Force on Ethics Enforcement, chaired by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.). The task force is studying the issue of whether, and how, to strengthen the monitoring and enforcement of congressional ethics rules and lobbying laws. The task force is looking at a wide range of recommendations, ranging from establishing an independent ethics agency, to a professional and independent staff as an Office of Public Integrity, to doing nothing at all. Its recommendations are expected shortly.
Comparison of Lobbying Reform Legislative Proposals
Comparison of Past Proposals and Newly Passed Measures: Detailed Comparison of Lobbying Reform Proposals from the House Democratic Leadership (H.R. 2316) and the Measures Approved by the House (H.Res.6) and the Senate (S.1) in the 110th Congress
Senate - Major Legislative Proposals
The Senate's reform bill, S 1., passed on January 18th by a vote of 92-2 and while at first it was very similar to the weak reform bill, S. 2349, that came out of the last session, Senate Majority Leader Reid and others introduced several stregthening amendments that have resulted in a bill that the Senate can be proud of.
Unfortunately, a provision called the Bennett amendment was approved, and weakens the bill by limiting the transparancy of grassroots organizations who lobby.
See a full list of the amendments that were voted on and a summary of S. 1.
Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) re-introduced the weak bill that the Republican-led Senate passed last year, S. 2349, as the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007 (S. 1). However, after growing public pressure for more significant reforms, following on the heels of Pelosi’s impressive rules package of gift and travel restrictions, Reid proposed strengthening S. 1, offering amendments derived from ethics rules enacted in the House.
McConnell, a long-time opponent of significant campaign finance, lobbying and ethics reforms, rallied the entire Republican caucus to filibuster S. 1. [See the filibuster vote here] But public outcry forced the Republican caucus into a hasty retreat.
Within a matter of hours, Reid negotiated a settlement with McConnell in which one strengthening amendment after another was accepted by unanimous consent. The final Senate lobbying and ethics reform bill that emerged is the strongest that has ever been passed by that body. The bill passed by a vote of 96-2 on January 18, 2007.
The Senate bill now includes:
- Comprehensive gift and travel restrictions.
- A two-year ban on former public officials from conducting lobbying activity for pay.
- Disclosure of lobbyist fundraising for candidates.
- Disclosure of earmarks, and a point of order challenge to remove earmarks not voted upon in committee.
- Electronic filing and disclosure of lobbyist financial reports.
Materials on the Senate bill:
- Read a summary of the new provisions in the Reid-McConnell substitute bill.
- Read a summary of Reid's additional amendments.
- Read the Coalition Letter to the Senate to support the Reid amendment.
- Learn more about the need to disclose earmarks.
- Learn more about the revolving door amendments.
- Read about the need to disclose lobbyist bundling of campaign contributions.
- Read the text of the Obama-Feingold amendment on lobbyist bundling.
- Read the Coalition Letter to the Senate, calling for stronger reform.
- See all the proposed amendments for S. 1 here.
- Read our summary of S. 1.
Missing from the final bill was a measure to expose phony grassroots organizations that are backed by special interests and spend millions to sway public opinion. Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), the Ranking Member of the Rules and Administration Committee, weakened the bill by proposing an amendment that guts attempts to bring transparency to grassroots lobbying, especially "Astroturf" lobbying. The 55 Senators who voted down the measure helped lobbyists hang on to a powerful tool for manipulating the public good in favor of their well-heeled clients’ goals.
- Read Public Citizen's report and press release on "Astroturf" lobbying
- Read a Q and A on "Astroturf" lobbying, and the need for transparency.
- Read a memo on the constitutionality of requiring disclosure of "Astroturf" lobbying.
- Fact sheet on "Astroturf" lobbying.
- OMB Watch letter to the Senate in favor of discloure of "Astroturf" lobbying.