WASHINGTON—House Republican leaders on Thursday narrowly defused a revolt within their ranks that would have killed lobby and ethics legislation, but then delayed a final vote on the package until next week.
The legislation still faces broad, if not unanimous, opposition from Democrats and a handful of Republican moderates who say the legislation falls far short of what Congress needs to remove the stain of scandal rising from recent criminal convictions for influence-peddling.
The legislative package, which will be voted on Tuesday, restricts some congressional travel, requires more frequent public disclosure of lobbying activity and forces public identification of sponsors of special-interest "earmarks" inserted into spending bills.
The measure's defeat would have been an embarrassing setback for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Both vowed to tackle ethics and lobbying legislation in the wake of guilty pleas for corruption by disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif.
Allegations of influence-peddling also have spilled into Democratic ranks. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., had to step down recently as the top Democrat on the House ethics committee after publicity stirred controversy over spending provisions that he'd inserted into legislation benefiting his friends and business associates.
House Republican appropriators, the lawmakers who draft spending bills, had threatened to vote against the legislation because they objected to its restrictions on "earmarks," the special spending items that members of Congress routinely insert into appropriations bills to benefit constituents. The appropriators said it wasn't fair to restrict such items only in appropriations bills and not in tax or policy legislation.
The appropriators, led by their chairman, Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., eventually relented after Hastert and Boehner promised to apply earmark restrictions to all forms of legislation when the final bill gets reconciled with a Senate version passed in March.
Following the GOP leaders' pledge, the House voted 216-207, largely along partisan lines, to accept the rule governing debate on the bill, indicating likely passage.
"The leader and the speaker gave their word to our members," Lewis said. "We can't ask for any more than that from our speaker. Comprehensive earmark reform is fundamental to our being able to go forward positively and effectively."
Still, many Republican advocates of changing the earmark system were suspicious of the appropriators' motives.
Many House conservatives are suspicious "that the desire to expand earmark reform is actually a desire to kill earmark reform," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.
The House legislation would ban all privately funded travel by members or their staffs until Dec. 15, six weeks after the November elections. It also would prevent lobbyists from accompanying lawmakers on corporate jets.
Lobbyists would have to file quarterly lobbying disclosure reports. They also would have to reveal previous employment in the legislative and executive branches of government.
The controversial earmark provision would require the appropriations committee to include a list of earmarks in spending bills and to identify any member whose earmark appears in the bill. Any House-Senate negotiated spending bill that adds earmarks also would be subject to parliamentary challenge.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California called the bill "an embarrassingly trivial response to the culture of corruption that has thrived under this Republican Congress."
The Senate version contains tougher restrictions on lobbying and ethics. Unlike the House bill, it bans all gifts and meals from lobbyists and extends from one to two years the period that former members have to wait before they can lobby Congress. In addition, the Senate's restrictions on earmarks apply to tax and policy legislation as well as to spending bills.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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