January 23, 2006
Lobbyist Reform Politics
The Republican and Democratic versions of lobbyist reform trotted
out last week had very different styles. The austere Republican
presentation professed desire for bipartisanship. The gaudy Democratic
show equated the GOP with original sin. But each fell short of what
is called for by the reformer most widely respected by the public,
Sen. John McCain.
very disappointed," McCain told me, "to see the Democrats
trying to turn this issue into attacking Republicans." But
he was no less upset with open avowal by House Speaker Dennis
Hastert and the House Republican establishment of earmarking funds
that McCain considers the seedbed of lobbyist corruption. The
Democrats, in their anti-Republican light show, ignored earmarks.
of a system that has grown ever more rotten must have two salient
characteristics in McCain's view. It must be bipartisan, and it
must eviscerate, if not eliminate, earmarks. McCain exerts extraordinary
influence for a politician without a formal leadership role or
a government office, but the magnitude of his task is awesome.
He must convince Democrats to cooperate with Republicans when
they now see an opportunity to crush the GOP, and he must wean
his own party from its addiction to government pork.
Dreier, a member of the Republican leadership as chairman of the
House Rules Committee, discovered the difficulty of McCain's first
task two weeks ago when Hastert assigned him to come up with a
lobbying reform package. Initially, he approached the ranking
Democrat on Rules, Rep. Louise Slaughter, who, like many House
Democrats, has grown acerbic as the party enters its 12th year
in the minority. She responded to Dreier's appeal for bipartisanship
with cold shoulder and hot tongue.
went to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who is viewed by Republicans
as the ablest Democrat in the House but one with whom they can
do business. Dreier first got the impression Hoyer might cooperate
on lobbyist reform. But when that word leaked out, Dreier found
Hoyer totally uninterested. "This is not a problem of rules,"
Hoyer told me he informed Dreier. "It's a problem of conduct,
Republican conduct." If so, I suggested, the only solution
is a return to Democratic control of Congress, and Hoyer said
I got that right.
joint press conference with Hastert last Tuesday, he cited reform-minded
Democratic Rep. Martin Meehan as his bipartisan partner. When
I called Meehan, he conceded he was flying solo and did not seem
too comfortable about it. But when I mentioned that Hastert and
Dreier advocated reforming the so-called "527" loophole
in campaign reform that permits mainly Democratic non-transparent
funding, Meehan brightened perceptibly. "That's a poison
pill," he told me, meaning he could be off the bipartisan
looked morose talking about lobbyist reform last Tuesday, but
enthusiastic Democrats lined up at the Library of Congress the
next day were reminiscent of the Newt Gingrich Republicans on
the steps of the Capitol in 1994. Democrats finally see a route
back to power.
did not mention earmarks, since even in their minority status
they get 45 percent of the pork. Hastert last week was defiant
in defending earmarks. "Quite frankly," he said, "we
also have to observe the rights of [House] members to represent
their districts and to be active in favor of things that they
think will help."
is the main issue separating three candidates for House majority
leader in the Feb. 2 election by the Republican Conference. John
Boehner and John Shadegg oppose them. Acting Majority Leader Roy
Blunt, the front-runner, supports earmarks but says each should
be identified with the sponsoring member of Congress. Actually,
that's the way the system works now, with lawmakers, including
Blunt, rushing out press releases to advertise what they have
done for their district.
non-existent two decades ago, now near 15,000. McCain sees this
as the source of lobbyist corruption, the vehicle used to bribe
Duke Cunningham and the focus for half the capital's lobbyists.
Both parties are united in silly changes like keeping former congressmen
off the House floor and further curtailing how much a lobbyist
can spend on a lawmaker's lunch. Will they unite to get rid of
the scourge of earmarks?
2006 Creators Syndicate