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
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
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
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
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
“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.