An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
January 09, 2007
The House banned a number of lobbyist-provided benefits that many lawmakers seemed to have come to think of perks of their office - gifts, meals, travel, the use of corporate jets. It did not venture into the trickier, more ambiguous world of lobbyists doing political fund-raising.
The most significant reform involved earmarks - lawmakers' personal pork projects often quietly slipped into spending bills in the dead of night and often done so at the behest of a generous lobbyist.
The projects might themselves be fine, even worthwhile. The problem is that no congressional panel has scrutinized them for their merit or relative priority in a tight budget. A particular project may be a laughable waste of money, but usually it doesn't come to light until too late, after the bill has been passed.
The other problem is that earmarks, already a growing problem, exploded in the Republicans' years, tripling in the last 12 to more than $64 billion annually, and like the largess of lobbyists, members began to treat them as a perk of office.
The new ethics regulations require that all earmarks in a bill be listed, their sponsors identified, their purpose defined and their costs calculated. The regulations apply as well to tightly targeted tax breaks and tariff reductions, another fast-growing area of abuse.
The Senate is finding it a little harder to part with its lobbyist-provided perks and may take another two weeks to decide whether it really wants to do so. Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold and Barack Obama are pushing a bill much like the House version. But the leadership seems disposed to keep the lobbyist-paid travel and the corporate jets, and do with less disclosure on earmarks.
The sterner House rules seem to be the better way, but ethics reform can only go so far. A lawmaker determined to be dishonest will do so and the only thing that will prevent him is the vigilance of his peers.
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