Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Republicans Keep For Sale Sign On Congress

After the fallout from the Abramoff scandal, politicians such as John Boehner talked tough about getting ethics reform passed in Washington.

Well, Boehner has been the House Majority Leader for a few months now and we are still in the same situation we were at the beginging of the year.

Since being elected, Boehner has made it clear that he is against ethics reform, despite campaigning on that promise.

There have been a lot of good ideas from a lot of good people, such as Congressman Ford, in the area of ethics reform. However, they have all be shot down because the congressional Republicans are unwilling to fix the corrupt system they formed.

The following op-ed that ran in the Chicago Tribune hits the nail on the head:

A few months ago, Congress came down with a sudden case of reform fever. GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff had just pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges, and his ties to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and others in Congress were getting increased scrutiny.

Fearing a voter backlash, lawmakers anxiously started talking about restricting an array of perks such as privately financed golfing trips and lavish meals. Some said lobbyists should be barred from giving them anything worth more than $20.

That was too much for Sen. Trent Lott. "Some of these things would be ludicrous," the Mississippi Republican complained. "... We're going to cut meals to $20 a meal. Where are they going to eat? McDonald's?" Perish the thought.

Lott's mind-set pretty much sums up Washington these days. The Senate on Wednesday passed a lobbying bill that was weak enough to keep everybody in the capital - those who buy and those who sell influence - feeling good.

How weak is it? Gifts and meals would be out, but the members could still take trips to faraway places that are funded by special-interest groups. They could still slip special funding requests - the infamous `earmarks' - into legislation, though it would be slightly more difficult to get them passed.

And at that, the Senate has done more than the House. A reform package pushed by House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been sliced and diced by his own party's members. The speaker may not even get his own legislation to a floor vote. Most likely the House will try the same ploy as the Senate - let members vote on some weak legislation so they can go home and tell us they did the noble thing. Then the House and Senate will bury the whole issue.

Before the Senate vote, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., predicted momentum for real change may not pick up without more high-profile indictments. "If we can't do simple stuff like preventing lobbyists from buying $50 steak dinners, then how can people have any confidence we're going to control spending in a serious way," Obama said. Give him credit - he voted against the weak Senate bill, which was approved 90-8.

This is a bipartisan problem. The Chicago Tribune recently reported on Illinois members' trips taken from last April to January. GOP Rep. Mark Kirk and his staff took four privately funded trips worth more than $42,000. Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez took eight trips over the last year, half of them to Puerto Rico where he has family. In January, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and her husband attended a conference for six days at a luxury Mexican resort courtesy of the Aspen Institute. That group does no lobbying. But would she have gone had the meeting been in Milwaukee?

A lot of good ideas for change are floating around.

_Ban the special-interest-sponsored travel. If a trip by a member of Congress is critical to his job, the government should pay the tab.

_Pay for your own wine and dining. It's unseemly for members of Congress to be perpetual guests of K Street.

_Put it all out in the open. When lobbyists seek to influence them, lawmakers should publicly disclose who and when and how.

The prevailing attitude in Congress is to stall on this, on the assumption that voters will become preoccupied with other issues and accept the status quo on ethics.

Maybe there's a cynical logic in that. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found 81 percent of the public believes that it is common behavior for lobbyists to bribe members of Congress - and 41 percent think their own representative has taken bribes. So why not stall on lobby reform? People already think Congress is on the take. We couldn't think much less of the members than we already do. And yet we keep re-electing them.

Folks, clearly the Republicans have failed the American people when it comes to restoring trust to our government.

Harold Ford Jr. is ready to help clean up Washington.

Lets make sure we give him that opportunity this November.

Read about Congressman Ford's actions on ethics reform here! (1 , 2, 3)

Read about John Boehner's views opposing ethics reform here!

Read about John Boehner's broken promises regarding ethics reform here!