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Obama to McCain: No Thanks on Reform Task Force

In a sign that many Democrats continue to view ethics as a potent political issue in the midterm elections,  Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Thursday rejected an effort by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to form a bipartisan task force to develop compromise reform legislation.

"I know you have expressed an interest in creating a task force to further study and discuss these matters but I and others in the Democratic Caucus believe the more effective and timely course is to allow the committees of jurisdiction to roll up their sleeves and get to work on writing ethics and lobbying reform legislation that a majority of the Senate can support," Obama wrote in a Feb. 2 letter to McCain.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said that since the goal of the reform effort is to make government more transparent, the idea of a working group or task force conducting business behind closed doors was not appealing to his boss. "You don't need a commission," Gibbs said. "What you need most of all is a commitment from the leadership to bring this issue to the floor as quickly as possible."

McCain allies responded that the Arizona Republican is not advocating a long and drawn out process, but rather a task force that would offer recommendations by the end of this month.

Obama, who is being pushed by Democrats as the face of their reform efforts, also advocated in his letter for the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act -- a broad package of ethics and lobbying changes introduced by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last month. Obama, noting to McCain that 40 Democratic senators are behind it, said the legislation "represents a significant step in addressing many of the worst aspects of corruption that have come to light as a result of the Justice Department investigation of Jack Abramoff."

McCain has his own lobbying reform proposal, which is cosponsored by Democratic Sens. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.).

Obama's letter comes in response to a Wednesday meeting of senators -- organized by McCain -- that aimed to move forward on ethics and lobbying reform in a bipartisan manner.  Aside from Obama, McCain and Lieberman, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Republicans Sens. Rick Santorum (Pa.), Susan Collins (Maine), Trent Lott (Miss.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), David Vitter (La.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.) were in attendance.

Democrats have made no secret of their belief that congressional Republicans' alleged "culture of corruption" is one of the key elements of their strategy to make major gains at the ballot box in November.  Signing onto legislation with McCain -- a beloved figure among independents and even many Democrats -- would jeopardize the party's ability to draw bright distinctions in the midterm election campaign.

McCain, in a letter to Reid dated Jan. 26, voiced the contrasting opinion that "this current scandal taints us all," adding: "The American people do not see this as just a Republican problem or just a Democrat problem."

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 3, 2006; 2:39 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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