By LANCE GAY
Scripps Howard News Service
January 07, 2006
Cynics will find the "reforms" have all the sincerity of those "stop me before I kill again" bumper stickers. Topping the list of proposed reforms the GOP is floating are measures that would ban or limit lobbyist-paid gifts, junkets and meals. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants more disclosure of what lobbyists are doing, and to increase from one year to two years the "revolving door" prohibition against ex-lawmakers and their former staffers from engaging in lobbying.
Sweeping reforms that would change campaign finance laws to diminish the clout of lobbyists aren't in the cards. Lobbying is a $2.1 billion business and the number of Washington's army of lobbyists has more than doubled, from 16,000 in 2000 to more than 35,000 today.
About 250 former lawmakers or senior agency officials now work as lobbyists, according the Center for Public Integrity, and even former congressional press secretaries command salaries of more than $300,000 for going over to K Street lobbying shops with their prized contacts.
Little-noted provisions in a budget bill headed for approval in Congress this month would require patients seeking Medicaid payments to show a birth certificate or passport to prove that they are eligible.
Leighton Ku of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the measure could cost some of the 49 million low-income patients their medical benefits. Most Americans don't have passports, and many elderly don't possess copies of their birth certificates. Supporters of the new rule say it is needed to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining Medicaid by falsely claiming to be citizens.
Private contractors hired by the IRS to track down tax deadbeats plan to use voter records containing party identifications to find people. National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley, who isn't happy with IRS plans to contract out IRS work, contends that it raises the "appearance of a possible impropriety" because taxpayers could believe that the crackdown on those owing taxes could be related to their political affiliations.
The IRS says it will closely monitor the new activities. Under the program, contractors can keep 25 percent of the overdue taxes they collect.
It's some 250 years late, but dispatches from embedded journalist Phineus Cobb are surfacing on the latest developments in the French and Indian Wars.
It's all part of the campaign by history buffs at www.frenchandindianwar250.org to gin up enthusiasm in classrooms and elsewhere over what happened in the conflict. The group says Cobb, a 30-year-old reporter with the Pennsylvania Gazette, intends to write reports on the war, which laid the precedents for the American Revolution.
Sporting groups are battling Navy plans to station a Super Hornet training squadron on Albemarle Sound in North Carolina, near prized wildlife refuges and wintering grounds for more than 100,000 swans, ducks and geese.
The admirals picked the rural site after noisy jet training at Oceana Naval Air Station raised hackles in Virginia Beach, Va. But groups, including the Izaak Walton League, Ducks Unlimited and the National Rifle Association, are lobbying the White House to persuade the brass to look elsewhere, noting that birds and jet engines don't mix.
Pentagon panjandrums have decreed that drivers on military bases can no longer use cell phones while driving. The new regulation says that anyone driving on a military installation will have to pull over to answer their cell phone or have their equipment fitted with a hands-free device.
The Pentagon says it's leaving it up to base commanders to decide when the new restriction goes into effect this year.
Tired of music on your personal audio player? White House drug czar John Walters says his office has begun podcasting speeches, interviews and other information on America's fight against drugs, making them available for downloading and good listening.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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