Congressional Dems Hope to Ride Ethics Issue to Majorities
UPDATE, Jan. 19, 5:00 p.m. ET: Jenn Crider, a spokeswoman for Rep. Pelosi, contacted The Fix last night to set the record straight on Pelosi's gift ban vote.
According to Crider, Pelosi ultimately voted for the gift ban. The vote cited by the NRCC was on a Republican-sponsored amendment to the bill -- an amendment opposed by the majority of Democrats.
Original Posting -- Jan. 18, 4:29 p.m. ET:
Congressional Democrats today unveiled a proposal to clean up corruption in government -- the crown jewel of the national agenda they hope will deliver them congressional majorities in the November midterm elections.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) led a long and stately procession of their colleagues -- accompanied by a soft strain of classical music -- into the Great Hall at the Library of Congress's Jefferson building to present their "Honest Leadership and Open Government Act" for the first time.
The rhetoric -- as expected -- was hot. Reid drew a comparison between his days fighting organized crime in Nevada and the current campaign to clean up Congress. Pelosi dismissed Republican proposals to curtail the power of lobbyists as a "vague and insufficient set of reforms."
Democrats also unveiled their not-so-secret weapon -- Illinois Sen. Barack Obama -- the young star who appears to be the chosen face of their reform effort. Obama was surprisingly measured, especially when compared to Pelosi and Reid. "None of us claim Democrats have a monopoly on virtue," he said, later adding: "While Democrats are not without sin, Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon and the K Street Project are Republican sins alone."
The Democrats' proposal would double the waiting period that former members of Congress and staff have to wait before they can lobby their ex-colleagues. It would also expand disclosure requirements for lobbyists, ban gifts of any sort from lobbyists to lawmakers, end the K Street Project, force lawmakers to disclose when they are negotiating for jobs in the private sector, and end no-bid government contracts.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the least well known but most forceful of the four Democrats who unveiled the reform proposal, made the goal of the ethic package crystal clear. "We are going to take the country back and we are throwing down the gauntlet today," said Slaughter to raucous applause from her the assembled Democratic lawmakers and staff in attendance.
Republicans quickly showed they were more than willing to take up the challenge. The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a press release minutes after the Democratic event concluded that accused Reid of misusing taxpayer dollars by utilizing his "war room" to put together a document that detailed alleged Republican corruption.
The National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a release of its own pointing out that Pelosi had opposed an attempt in 1995 to ban lobbyists from giving gifts to members of Congress.
"The minority leader has never hesitated to flip-flop on an issue to make hay while the sun shines," said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the NRCC. "That she does this in the interests of partisan expedience and political convenience is, while unsurprising, still appalling."
At the Democratic event, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) was tucked far in the back. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) were noticeably absent.
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