All Talk, No Action

“Lobbying reform, of all things, should not be twisted into a vehicle exploited by one party to gain electoral advantage.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) – March 7, 2006

“Americans finish what they start, and they expect the Senate to do the same.” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn), referring to lobbying reform legislation – March 9, 2006

"We feel very strongly about the need to bring about bold, strong reforms." Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), Chair of the House Rules Committee and chief architect of the House reform legislation.

Despite high-flown rhetoric about their commitment to lobbying and ethics reform, it looks like leaders in Congress are more about talk than action.

House Republicans on Wednesday unveiled their much-trumpeted proposal for lobbying reform. The “bold, strong” package included disclosure of lobbyist gifts and earmarks along with a temporary ban on privately financed travel.  What it did not include was limits on lobbyist contributions or fundraising, a ban on gifts, or an independent Office of Public Integrity.  Forgive me if I hold my applause.

Amazingly, even this paltry proposal ran into immediate opposition from other House Republicans.   Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dan Lundren (R-Calif.) announced they would introduce legislation that only required disclosure of privately financed trips, eliminating even the temporary ban.

As the Senate, for its part, moved toward a lobbying reform vote last week, Sen. Charles Schumer (R-N.Y.) offered an unrelated amendment to scuttle the Dubai port deal, throwing a fragile bipartisan consensus on the lobbying bill into disarray. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) expressed great disappointment at the non-germane amendment, but wasn’t upset enough to bring the bill up for reconsideration later in the day. This put lobbying reform in the Senate on indefinite hold with no future vote planned.

All the big talk about lobbying reform is just that—talk.   And so far, Congress’s addiction to cash and special-interest perks is speaking louder than words.

-Collin Jergens