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While the House dithers on reform, Senate rushes in with no clear plan

It might come as no surprise, but according to recent news reports the House of Representatives seems to be quickly losing its appetite for reform. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) originally promised quick action when the House returned from the holidays, but his initial, very modest proposals met with stiff resistance from his rank and file. Newly elected Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) further put the kibosh on reform by pronouncing some of Hastert’s proposals to be “childish,” and publicly warning that Congress should not “overreact” to the scandals roiling Washington.

Again, that’s not terribly surprising, coming from Republican House leadership that’s been in bed with Jack Abramoff and his ilk for years, and which has gotten very comfortable with the privileged lifestyle provided by corporate lobbyists, thank you very much. It’s also not surprising when you consider that the House has barely done any work at all since the year started, having met in session only a measly seven days  during the first seven weeks of the year. (The House’s current schedule would set a record for fewest days in session since recordkeeping began in 1947) Apparently, House leaders don’t think the "people’s business" requires very much attention right now.

By contrast, the reform agenda is bustling along in the Senate, although the direction it’s heading is anyone’s guess. Two important Senate committees, the Government Affairs Committee and the Rules Committee, will be drafting reform legislation during the coming week, and virtually everything is on the table for consideration. This includes new disclosure provisions, new rules for earmarks, travel and gift bans, new proposals for ethics enforcement,  restrictions on campaign fundraising by lobbyists, and much more. The smart money would bet on senators passing as little reform as possible – “disclosure” seems to be the Republican buzzword now, as if we didn’t know enough already about the corruption in Congress. But once debate starts, it’s hard to tell where it will go. As noted in the National Journal, inaction or “no” votes on reform legislation by members of either party could cost them dearly with an electorate that’s disgusted with business as usual, especially with the Abramoff investigation still unfolding and more indictments likely around the corner.

So, what better time than to have a national call-in day, and jam the Senate phone lines with our demand for real reform now? Working with U.S. PIRG, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other reform groups, Public Citizen has organized “National Call Out Corruption Day” for next Tuesday, Feb. 28. Keep your eyes peeled for updates on this national action, and be prepared to give your senators a piece of your mind this coming Tuesday!

-Gordon Clark