By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
The Senate Rules Committee plans today to draft legislation that would make it harder for lawmakers to win narrowly focused appropriations and tax breaks called earmarks and to compel lawmakers to quickly disclose any meals they accept from lobbyists.
The plan, which was still being worked on yesterday, will probably form the basis of the first of a series of bills in Congress this year designed to curtail lobbying after the Jack Abramoff political corruption scandal.
Separately, Republican leaders in the House neared an agreement to temporarily ban privately funded travel for House members. A senior House aide said the ban would be in place until an effective process for preapproving trips could be established.
The Rules Committee measure would allow the Senate to strip individual earmarks from conference reports, which are bills in their final stage before they are sent for the president's signature. Currently, lawmakers are often powerless to remove the provisions when legislation is so far advanced.
The proposal would also require that the lawmakers who wrote the earmarks be identified and that each earmark carry an explanation of its "essential governmental purpose." In the past, much of the earmarking of legislation was done in secret. In addition, conference reports, now sometimes rushed through Congress at the eleventh hour, would have to be available on the Internet 24 hours before they are voted on.
The proposed bill would also prevent former senators who are registered lobbyists or agents of foreign entities to walk onto the Senate floor, a privilege they now have.
Under the legislation, lawmakers and their staffs would have to list on the lawmakers' official Web sites the value of any meal or refreshments they accept from lobbyists. They would have to make the posting no later than 15 days after the meals are received.
The bill would also mandate that lawmakers get approval in advance from the Senate's Select Committee on Ethics for any privately financed travel they accept. The trips and their main details would have to be disclosed rapidly, including the names of the people who came along on private aircraft.
In addition, the measure would increase the amount of disclosure that Indian tribes must make for their contributions to federal candidates. Several of Abramoff's clients were Indian tribes.
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), chairman of the Rules Committee, continued to work on the proposal last evening, according to an aide. The draft bill was obtained by The Washington Post yesterday after it was distributed to some panel members.
The House voted Feb. 1 to deny its former members access to the House floor and to its gymnasium. Its Republican leaders are still negotiating legislation that would further restrict contact between lawmakers and lobbyists.
The Lott proposal would be the first lobbying and ethics bill to be considered in committee on the topic this year. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is expected to draft its own measure Thursday, with votes on both bills scheduled for next week.