House Overwhelmingly Approves Ethics Bill – Next: The Senate

It always amazes me what a roll-call vote can do. Behind the scenes, in back-room negotiations, many members of Congress have been laboring away trying to water down – if not kill – lobbying and ethics reform legislation.

Yet when the same bill was submitted to a roll-call vote, where members go on record voting “yea” or “nay,” the bill on ethics sailed through. The House passed a landmark lobbying and ethics bill today by a vote of 411-to-8. Looking at the floor vote, most of the public would not know that many members of Congress had wished this bill would die a quiet death.

About two weeks ago, the bill had one foot in the grave.

Lobbying and ethics reform, because they deal directly with Congress as an institution, is usually a painful legislative process. And this time it was no different.

Last year, for the duration of the news flash covering each new scandal, Congress pretended to embrace strong reforms, only to try whittling them down later in committee. Public Citizen, alongside other formidable friends from the reform community, began by proposing comprehensive solutions to the corruption scandals that swept over Capitol Hill.

And the scandals just kept coming – about a dozen former and current lawmakers are under criminal investigation, some have gone to jail and more will be following. The Senate reluctantly approved S. 1 by a vote of 96-to-2; the House approved H.R. 2316 by a vote of 396-to-22. But once the bills moved back behind-the-scenes in conference, Sen. Jim DeMint put a “hold” on the legislation, effectively preventing its passage.

To break the logjam, in a bold procedural move, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid sat down together and wrote new ethics legislation, identical bills for both chambers, so that conference could be entirely avoided a second time around and DeMint’s obstruction made moot.

Back from the dead, the far-reaching reform measure passed the House and now goes to the Senate on Thursday, where many senators have again expressed disdain about it and would love to see it die.

But the Senate will also be asked to cast a publicly recorded roll-call vote on the ethics bill. And, despite itself, Congress will pass legislation to enact restrictions on gifts and congressional travel, open up the books on fundraising for lawmakers by lobbyists, and attach a lawmaker’s name to each and every special interest earmark.

The interesting question is: How will DeMint cast his recorded vote?