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Lobbyists Won't Like What Pelosi Has in Mind
Pelosi would also 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.
Because of the notorious Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska and other controversial pork barrel projects, reform-minded lawmakers have been pressing to make it more difficult to slip narrowly focused spending provisions into legislation. Taking up their cause, Pelosi would end the practice of adding such measures to bills after House-Senate negotiators have completed their work. She would also insist that bills be made available to the public at least 24 hours before they could be voted on by the full House; some types of bills would have to be available for three days.
In addition, Pelosi would 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.
The Pelosi bill would crack down on lobbyists directly by creating an Office of Public Integrity. The new agency, which would be overseen by the House inspector general, would audit and investigate lobbyists' periodic filings and refer any problems they find to the U.S. attorney's office. Currently there is little if any serious enforcement of lobbying-disclosure laws.
The Pelosi measure would also make it tougher for Congress to spend public money in ways that widen the budget deficit. She would bar the House from taking up major budget bills that increase the government's deficit, at least compared to the latest estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Pelosi would even stop the Democrats from doing what Republicans did to help solidify their majority -- at least when it comes to dealing with lobbyists. Republican leaders pressured major lobbying offices and trade associations in town to hire former Republican staffers and lawmakers in senior positions. That effort, known as the K Street Project, was designed to increase the flow of campaign contributions to Republican candidates and causes.
Pelosi would specifically prohibit House members from using their official actions to influence any employment decisions "on the basis of partisan political affiliation."
None of the provisions would be implemented until early next year, when the new Congress convenes. And if history is a guide, lobbyists and their lawmaker friends will probably manage to water down at least some of them before they come to a vote.
But if Democrats win a congressional majority in next week's elections, a leading reason will be the public's disgust with congressional ethics, or lack thereof. It would only make sense for the new leadership to respond by loosening the links that bind lawmakers and lobbyists.
Jeffrey Birnbaum writes about the intersection of government and business every other Monday. His e-mail address email@example.com.