Thursday, November 23, 2006

Washington Lobbyists: Welcome to the Rice Table

Remember the First 100 Hours Plan? First outlined in July, but given broad coverage by the AP last October. Here’s what I like about it. First, we clean up the House. Literally.

Day 1: Put new rules in place to break the link between lobbyists and legislation.

It’s called Ethics Reform

Ethics Reform is not like a menu in a Chinese restaurant. It’s not a smorgasbord. It’s a Rice Table (Really check it out - it's crucial to understand this posting). You can’t pick and choose what you will be eating. You can’t select one from column A and two from column B. You sit down at a long table and the food just keeps on coming.

Ethics Reform should be like that. You don’t get to pick and choose your ethics: which ethical principles you will get behind, and which ones you can do without.

So here’s the menu for the Nancy Pelosi Rice Table (also known as the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2006 or HR 4682). This menu is found on a Jeff Birnbaum piece at the Washington Post. Our man Nick Lampson, our next Texas CD-22 congressman needs to take note of the menu. Lead in this Nick. And then vote it in. Let's take the high road.

Satay Ayam: Prohibit House members from accepting gifts and travel from lobbyists or from organizations that employ lobbyists

You know, like when Jack Abramoff flew Tom DeLay et al. to Scotland for some rounds of golf at St. Andrews

Or how Tom DeLay used a corporate jet to fly him to Houston so he could be booked on conspiracy and money laundering charges.

This not only goes for the big stuff like the above, but the ban is imposed on any gifts, including trinkets, meals, tickets – anything of value.

Daging Rendang: Eliminate the House rule that gives access to the House gym, the House floor and its cloak rooms to former members of Congress who are registered to lobby.

Preferential treatment given to former congressmen who are now lobbyists. Sorry, Tom, Nancy isn’t going to let you have special advantages that aren’t available to say, Melinda Pierce, a senior lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

Gado-Gado: Require House members and their aides to disclose to the House ethics committee whenever they are negotiating for jobs in the private sector. The disclosure would have to be made within three business days after the talks begin.

Something has to be done about the revolving door that currently exists between Capitol Hill and K Street. Transparency is one way to curb the trend, so we can find out who is for sale and who is not. I remain convinced to this day that the main reason DeLay cut and ran was that he feared what his former aides, all of them working for Abramoff, were saying to the Ethics Committee and Department of Justice investigators.

Sambal Udang: End the practice of adding earmark measures to bills after House-Senate negotiators have completed their work. Make bills available to the public at least 24 hours before they could be voted on by the full House.

Earmarks – or pork barrel expenditures that are slipped in unnoticed to bills that have nothing to do with the expenditure – have to go. They are killing us in mounting debt. They build “bridges to nowhere”.

Ikan Goreng: Broaden a rule change adopted by the House this year that would force lawmakers to disclose the sponsors of "earmarked" spending and tax measures -- and to reveal their details -- before the bills that contain them can become law.

Secrets, so many secrets. Full disclosure and transparency will put an end to this scurrilous behavior.

Rudjak Manis: Crack down on lobbyists directly by creating an Office of Public Integrity, which would be overseen by the House inspector general. It would audit and investigate lobbyists' periodic filings and refer any problems they find to the U.S. attorney's office.

Washington Lobbyists are the most powerful influence peddlers in the history of the world. And we have no oversight of their actions? No check on how they do business except what the press digs up? For Krishna’s sake why not?

Terong Kecap: Make it tougher for Congress to spend public money in ways that widen the budget deficit. Bar the House from taking up major budget bills that increase the government's deficit.

This is as close to Pay As You Go as Pelosi gets. No more borrow and spend, no more runaway deficit spending. Nick can get behind this one I think.

Sotong Asam: Specifically prohibit House members from using their official actions to influence any employment decisions "on the basis of partisan political affiliation”

This, as you know, was the Republicans’ “K Street Project” a way to pressure lobbying groups to hire congressional aides and former congressmen into senior lobbying positions in their companies.

You know, the ironic thing is that this last provision of Pelosi’s Ethics Reform package is being implemented right now, without a single “Aye” vote. Basically it comes down to the law of the jungle: eat or be eaten.

In a recent piece Jeff Birnbaum notes that lobby groups are scurrying around looking for Democratic lobbyists. Democrats aren’t pressuring lobby groups to do this, they are doing it of their own volition. However, in the same article Birnbaum writes of a move by some lobbyists to get less well-paid positions on democratic congressional staffs, somewhat the reverse of what Pelosi’s reform package.

So maybe it’s still a good thing that on Day One of the 110th Congress, a Rice Table is being served.

Remember congressmen and congresswomen, take from each dish that is offered to you. Not to, is considered to be the height of bad manners.

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