Bush Offers Proposal on Ethics, Pay
By Ann Devroy
Sidestepping the politically charged issue of honoraria for members of Congress, President Bush yesterday unveiled a wide-ranging package of ethics proposals for the three branches of government and called for broad reform in campaign financing laws.
In a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Bush said the package of legislation and a new code of conduct for the executive branch that he announced yesterday "seek a common end: to raise ethical standards, to avoid conflicts of interest and to ensure that the law is respected, in fact and in appearance."
The proposals do not include a key recommendation of the ethics commission appointed by Bush a ban on honoraria to members of Congress. Bush said he supports such a ban, but thinks it should be tied to a pay raise for Congress and worked out in later negotiations.
"There is no point, absolutely no point, in putting Congress through another traumatic bashing like the one just completed," he said in reference to the massive public outcry that led to rejection of a proposed 51 percent congressional pay raise in February.
Yesterday, the president proposed a 25 percent pay increase for federal judges, tied to a honoraria limit of 15 percent of judicial salaries. He said his consultations with Congress will also include an effort to get salary increases for "certain executive branch positions."
He did not specify which positions, but White House officials have been working for weeks to pinpoint technical, highly specialized jobs and categories of jobs for which they will make a pay increase case. Federal employee groups attacked the proposal as "fatally flawed" because of its failure to support increases for all executive branch employees.
The failure to call for a ban on congressional honoraria drew a rebuke from Common Cause. The public interest lobby group's president, Fred Wertheimer, called congressional acceptance of large fees for speeches "at the heart of the ethics scandals in Washington." Retreating from that proposal, he said, "undermines the president's credibility on the ethics issue."
White House officials said Bush thinks it would be unfair to propose a ban that would deeply cut the total income of a member of Congress without increasing his or her salary. Wertheimer responded with a list of 226 House members, a majority of that chamber, who stated they support an honoraria ban without a pay raise.
Bush added a campaign finance reform call to his package, telling the editors he has asked his staff for "a comprehensive review of federal campaign finance laws." The president endorsed a ban on all contributions of political action committees (PACs), said he opposes federal funding of congressional campaigns, and said the current law that allows members of Congress elected before 1980 to convert leftover campaign funds to personal use when they retire from public office should be repealed.
Major elements of the package include:
New financial disclosure rules that would make reporting and review requirements uniform for the three branches of government and require more detailed information. More officials would have to file disclosures.
Current federal conflict-of-interest laws would be extended to cover officers and senior employees in Congress and in the judiciary, although not members of Congress themselves. The president could grant a waiver "in the national interest." Congress would only be covered by provisions that affect future employment.
New rules would be promulgated governmentwide for the acceptance of reimbursemment of travel expenses, and employees of all branches would be prohibited from accepting gifts from anyone seeking action from their agency, or whose interests could be affected by their area of work.
New restrictions would govern those who leave government service and want to lobby their former agencies. One new provision, aimed at keeping government employees from revealing agency information to future employers, was questioned by the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday as a potential threat to public disclosure of nonclassified information.
The independent counsel statute would be extended to Congress. The counsels would not be appointed by the court but would be selected from a list of 15 approved by the attorney general.
The 15 percent limit on outside earned income that now applies to senior executive officials would be extended to members of Congress and their senior staff but honoraria for congressional officials would not be included in that limit.
The office of government ethics, which oversees the executive branch, would be strengthened, and a similar office to oversee Congress would be created.
© Copyright 1989 The Washington Post