So much for ethics reform


    Ethics reform, seemingly on a fast-track in the wake of the Jack
    Abramoff scandal, has slowed to a crawl in the U.S. House of
    Representatives.

    Reports Jeffrey Birnbaum in The Washington Post:

    The rush to revise ethics laws in the wake of the Jack Abramoff political corruption scandal has turned into more of a saunter.

    A month ago, Republican leaders in Congress called legislation on
    the topic their first priority, and promised quick action on a measure
    that would alter the rules governing the interaction between lawmakers
    and lobbyists.

    But now they do not anticipate final approval of such a measure until late March at the earliest.

    The primary holdup is in the House. Republican lawmakers left
    Thursday for a week-long recess without agreeing on a proposal that
    would serve as a starting point for debate. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert
    (R-Ill.) had been working with House Rules Committee Chairman David
    Dreier (R-Calif.) to devise such a plan and had expected to finish by
    now.

    Their progress was slowed by the election two weeks ago of a new
    majority leader, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has a different
    notion of what “reform” should entail and who challenged parts of
    Hastert’s plan.

    In mid-January, Hastert proposed broad new restrictions on lobbying,
    including a ban on privately funded travel for lawmakers and tight
    limits on meals and other gifts.

    But Boehner and many rank-and-file Republicans objected to his
    recommendations and have said they would prefer beefing up disclosure
    of lobbyists’ activities rather than imposing new restrictions.

    As a result, House Republicans are still talking about where to
    begin. “The speaker wants to gain a consensus on this legislation,
    introduce it . . . and complete it by the end of March so he can get
    onto other business,” said Ronald D. Bonjean Jr., Hastert’s spokesman.

    Previously, Hastert’s office had said it wanted to finish work by mid-March.

    Government watchdog groups are disappointed by the pace.
    “Particularly in the House, the progress is very slow and may end up
    with very little reform,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of
    Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

    Writes Toby Eckert of Copley News Service:

    Ethics reform efforts appear to be stumbling
    on Capitol Hill, with little consensus emerging about how to break up
    the cozy relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists.

    Resistance to some proposals is growing among
    lawmakers who are reluctant to give up free meals and all-expenses-paid
    trips, perks that were liberally dispensed by lobbyist Jack Abramoff,
    who recently pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy.

    Efforts to curb special-interest spending
    known as earmarks, which played a central role in the bribery scandal
    involving former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, have made more headway.
    But competing proposals abound, and the practice is unlikely to be
    eliminated.

    “There’s a lot of push-back going on right now,” said Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen.

    “Already we are hearing the sound of furious
    backpedaling in the corridors of power,” Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a
    reform proponent, said at a hearing last week that saw sharp
    disagreements over the effort.

    In the House, Majority Leader John Boehner,
    R-Ohio, has been cool to the idea of eliminating gifts and travel by
    lawmakers that is funded by outside groups. The day before Boehner was
    elected to the post, Republican leaders decided to delay unveiling a
    package of reform proposals because of criticism by rank-and-file
    members who felt they were too severe.