Joining ranks across the partisan divide, Senators Sherrod Brown and David Vitter introduce legislation aimed at ending Too Big To Fail: “The senators want the major banks to increase their own tangible equity so that shareholders, and not just taxpayers, take responsibility for their risky actions. They want the banks to have greater liquidity by holding more assets they can immediately turn into cash in a financial crisis. They say they want to keep Wall Street banks that enjoy government backing from gaming the financial system with credit derivatives and other risk-inflated schemes, which even JP Morgan Chase’s own employees failed to catch until too late.”
Naturally, the banks will be fighting this with everything they have, and Goliath usually wins these fights in Washington. They’re already leaning on one of their favorite Senators, Chuck Schumer, to block Brown from ascending to Chair of the Senate Banking Committee. Nonetheless, the progressive-conservative alliance here suggests, at the very least, a new wrinkle in the game.
In related news, companies are also wheeling out the Big Guns to threaten the Securities and Exchange Commission over potential new corporate disclosure rules for political spending — namely, making businesses disclose their campaign donations to their shareholders. Seems innocuous enough, but of course, “[t]he trade associations lining up in opposition to the rule amount to a roll call of the most politically influential — and highly regulated — industries in the country.”
As Matt Yglesias points out, one of the many reasons health care is so expensive in the United States: doctors are paid way too much. See also: 21 graphs that show America’s health-care prices are ludicrous. And after that: The Serpent on the Staff.
Along with pretty much always being on the wrong side of reform, the American Medical Association has contributed heavily to this problem. First, by working to artificially limit the supply of doctors for decades, and thus helping to ensure the doctors we do have are burdened with crushing amounts of debt. Second, by pushing for a cap on Medicare-supported residencies in 1997, further decreasing the US supply of doctors — They’ve since reversed course on that. And third, by continually skewing Medicare payment models and reimbursement rates. Don’t expect this issue to be resolved anytime soon.
Common Cause president Bob Edgar reads Obama the riot act for his many transgressions on the campaign finance front. “He still has time to change course and I’m enough of an optimist to hold out hope that he will. But it’s getting tougher.” On this as on so many other fronts, I myself am no longer that optimistic. (Obama Lucy picture via this Atlantic Monthly article.)
“We talk a lot about broken models. The DC progressive model is broken. It does nothing but facilitate the injustices readily evident in this case.” In related news, and in the wake of his recent Salon piece about the administration’s phantom financial fraud task force, Dave Dayen argues its time for progressive organizations in DC to get adversarial or go home. “Well-meaning people all over this country concerned about any number of issues hand over their hard-earned money to these groups, and they aim to speak broadly for liberal values. The accountability doesn’t stop on Wall Street. It needs to be shared by the DC progressive community.”
Update: “There’s a certain conventional wisdom that President Obama wants stronger campaign finance laws, and to protect our democracy from the corrupting effects of money in politics. It’s a story that you should no longer believe.” The Sunlight Foundation weighs in against Obama as well. “The arc of the Obama presidency may be long, but so far, it has bent away from transparency for influence and campaign finance, and toward big funders.”
“In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That’s 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. Together, they would fill only two-thirds of the 41,222 seats at Nationals Park.“
According to a recent report by the Sunlight Foundation, 0.1% of the country made almost a quarter of the campaign donations last year. It’s a great system, tho’.
Democracy in action: Soon after working to get the Comcast-NBC merger approved at the FCC, Republican commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker steps down to become a senior VP of the merged company. “At the time, Baker objected to FCC attempts to impose conditions on the deal and argued that the ‘complex and significant transaction’ could ‘bring exciting benefits to consumers that outweigh potential harms.‘”
One small silver lining amid the sordidness here: The merger was approved in mid-January, and it’s now early May. So this sweetheart deal actually marks the fastest that Comcast has ever managed to service one of its customers.
Coal Cares. Come for the free inhaler — dibs on the Batman one — stay for the truth about alternative energy. “Sustainable, long-term government programs mean safety for all investors. Investing in coal will always be a smart move, especially with well-supported, long-term government subsidies driving down costs, and a near-complete absence of subsidies for so-called “alternative” energies.”
“‘This case is a message from the people of the state of Texas that they want – and expect – honesty and ethics in their public officials,’ said Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. ‘All people have to abide by the law.‘”
Some heartening news that dropped over Thanksgiving vacation: A jury of his peers found Boss DeLay guilty of money-laundering. “Punishment for the first ranges from five years to life in prison, but the former congressman from the Houston suburb of Sugar Land could receive probation…Reporters in the courtroom described DeLay as stunned by the verdict, which came after 19 hours of deliberation.“
At this point, I’m cynical enough to think that DeLay will eventually find a way to get this conviction overturned on appeal — particularly given the fact that his defense began with a huge blunder. Still, at least for one day, it was great to hear that Boss DeLay was finally called out for his crimes.
This will probably be the most disgusting story you read all day. On what happens to be the 124th birthday of the Statue of Liberty, NPR’s Laura Sullivan delves into how the private prison industry got Arizona’s racial profiling law passed.
Even accustomed as I am now to stories of how money in politics has completely broken our republic — and why in holy hell do we countenance a private prison system in America anyway? — this is truly vile. “The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.“
The republic stands upon the edge of a knife, people. Stray but a little, and it will fall. While the NYT belatedly figures out the Chamber is up to no good in its overwhelming campaign spending — thank you, Citizens United — the Center for American Progress discovers that the vast right-wing conspiracy actually holds meetings(!):
“While the Koch brothers — each worth over $21.5 billion — have certainly underwritten much of the right, their hidden coordination with other big business money has gone largely unnoticed…The memo, along with an attendee list of about 210 people, shows the titans of industry — from health insurance companies, oil executives, Wall Street investors, and real estate tycoons — working together with conservative journalists and Republican operatives to plan the 2010 election, as well as ongoing conservative efforts through 2012.”
TPM’s Justin Elliot and Zachary Roth try to ascertain a head-count of the representatives from K-Street: “We’ve compiled a close-to-comprehensive list of former members of Congress currently working on behalf of private interests in Washington’s influence-peddling industry. We count 172 of them — almost one-third the number of current members of Congress.” (They deem them the “Shadow Congress,” but I think that name is, quite frankly, far too awesome to be used in reference to a bunch of bought-and-paid-for-lobbyists. See also: Shadow Broker, Shadow Proclamation, etc. etc.)
The picture above, by the way, is Joseph Keppler’s The Bosses of the Senate, from the January 1889 issue of Puck. Consider also David Graham Phillips’ “Treason of the Senate” from 1906, and the problem of corporate control over our republican institutions is sadly not-so-new. But back then, alas, they were just getting warmed up.
In the wake of the Senate’s 59-39 passage of financial reform last week (not to mention increasing evidence of rampant and pervasive fraud at Goldman, Morgan, and elsewhere), New York‘s John Heilemann surveys the bruised egos of Wall Street’s would-be robber barons. (In very related news, Paul Krugman and the WP note that Wall Street is now betting heavily on the GOP again.)
Keep in mind: Wall Street is angry with the administration despite the fact that “Geithner’s team spent much of its time during the debate over the Senate bill helping…kill off or modify amendments being offered by more-progressive Democrats.” [Change we can believe in!] Heilemann writes: “Whatever the effects of the bill, among them will be neither an end to the too-big-too-fail doctrine nor any curb on what the sharpest Wall Streeters see as the central threat to the system’s stability: excessive financial leverage. Geithner, Summers, and Obama had little interest in tackling those matters, not because they are indentured servants to Wall Street but because at heart they are all technocrats who believe the system doesn’t need to be rebooted or downsized, merely better supervised.“
Still, on the bright side and despite the ambivalence (or open opposition) from folks in high places, this bill did get significantly stronger on the Senate floor, and in some ways is now stronger than the House version passed last year. Let’s hope this welcome progressive trend continues in conference.
“The festival was over and the boys were all planning for a fall.
The cabaret was quiet except for the drilling in the wall.
The curfew had been lifted and the gambling wheel shut down.
Anyone with any sense had already left town.
He was standing in the doorway looking like the Jack of Hearts.“
Part of the problem is Casino Jack is a maddeningly mercurial sort — and unlike the recently-released Ney, the soon to trial DeLay, chastened aide Neil Volz, and others, he and “Gimme Five” kickback co-conspirator Michael Scanlon choose not to go on the record here. So, right away, there is a cipher at the center of this ostensibly biographical story. And even more problematic for the film’s narrative and structure: Casino Jack had his fingers in a lot of pies, and if there was any way to game the political system somehow to make money, he was on the case. In short, this is one long, twisted, and convoluted story.
And thus, Gibney is left with the ungainly task of trying to explain how Abramoff turned Northern Marianas sweatshops into a bribe farm for GOP congressmen, and how his shady, playing-both-sides kickback operation gamed Native American casinos. Not to mention how his phantom think-tank on the Delaware coast was in fact a money-laundering outfit. Or how the seemingly Mob-connected takeover of a fleet of Suncruz casino ships — and the murder of its former owner — went down. And, amidst all this, how Abramoff managed to move up the GOP food chain by throwing his money around, and was depressingly successful at it. This is all not even withstanding weird tangents like Red Scorpion. So, while Gibney does an admirable job explaining the details of these various operations, he has to jump through so many hoops to get it all down that the Big Picture often gets lost.
I’m probably being a little too hard on this doc, if only because I went in with very high expectations. I was hoping Casino Jack would be more of a concise and devastating prosecutorial brief about the plague of unfettered money in politics, but it’s more broad and meandering than that. (And, to be fair, whenever you take a subject this broad, there will be some meandering — See also Why We Fight.) Still, as I said, even if the high-level connections aren’t quite nailed down, Gibney does a good job of nailing the specifics of each particular grift — the sweatshops and casinos and whatnot. And, coming across with the nerdy charm of a more buttoned-down, politically-minded version of R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, author and ex-Republican Thomas Frank (The Wrecking Crew, What’s the Matter with Kansas) is an appealing interviewee throughout, and he enlivens the discussion considerably.
Speaking of Frank’s ex-GOP years: If you already knew the contours of this Abramoff story (and I suspect most of the people who bother to see this film will), perhaps the most interesting part of Casino Jack is the first half-hour, which chronicles the old College Republican days of friends Abramoff, Grover Norquist, and Ralph Reed. And from Reed’s penchant for outlandish stunts at campus protests, to Norquist’s unabashed admiration for Leninist tactics, to Abramoff et al’s abortive attempt to engage the Third World in their free-market fundie ways, it’s seem as if the young Reagan Right of the ’80s were mainly just a cracked-funhouse-mirror version of the ’60′s New Left they so despise. (This is also in keeping with what you might expect from books like Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm, about the ’64 Goldwater campaign.)
Still, as we move into the present day and these young conservatives fan out into the political system, Casino Jack and the United States of Money unfortunately gets its overarching message muddled. Is this movie about the former (Abramoff) or the latter (the U.S.M.)? Is Casino Jack a uniquely well-connected criminal mastermind, or, worse, the clearest expression of a political system overwhelmed by cold, hard cash? It’s true the answer to this question may just be “yes,” but the documentary can’t seem to decide at times if it wants to skewer Abramoff (and, by extension, his “unindicted co-conspirators”) or catch bigger game — the whole rotten system — and as a result, both sorta end up writhing off the hook.
At one point, Casino Jack gets caught up recounting the exceptionally douchey e-mail traffic between Abramoff and Scanlon, which is fun and all. (The best laugh in the movie is when the beach bum lifeguard running their Delaware front operation turns out to be savvier than these two would-be Masters of the Universe: “Uh, you’ve been putting this all in e-mails?”) But, even as we delve into these sordid details, the scarier implications of the Abramoff story feel shortchanged — that not only does this pay-to-play stuff seem business as usual for the Dubya White House and DeLay ring, but worse, that this monied corruption festering at the heart of our republic is both legal and even institutionalized.
And so, when the Citizens United fiasco comes up at the end, it unfortunately feels like a bit of a non-sequitur, rather than the sad culmination of the story we’ve been told for two hours. Casino Jack and the United States of Money is an able attempt at muckraking, but, to my mind, it fails to capture the true horror unfolding here: Jack Abramoff may be languishing in prison right now, and for many, many good reasons. But the mess of a system he thrived in is still right here with us — and if anything, after Citizens United, it might soon be getting worse.
“‘This is the earliest that the Center has ever offered an estimate,’ Krumholz said. ‘As election observers across the political spectrum work to assess the impact of Citizens United, this prediction offers a solid baseline to compare new spending levels against.’” Before even taking the torrents of campaign cash expected in the wake of the Citizens United decision into consideration, the Center of Responsive Politics estimates that the 2010 midterms will cost over $3.7 billion. (FWIW, the year 2006 clocked in at $2.85 billion.) Sigh…fasten your seat belts — It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
“‘Taxpayers are subsidizing a legislative agenda that is inimical to their interests and offensive to what the whole TARP program is about,; said William Patterson, executive director of CtW Investment Group, an activist group affiliated with a coalition of labor unions. ‘It’s business as usual with taxpayers picking up the bill.” Sigh. The WP’s Dan Eggen reports on GM and a host of financial firms using bailout money to lobby for the status quo. “Major recipients of federal bailout money spent more than $10 million to lobby lawmakers in the first three months of 2009, including arguing against pay limits for corporate executives, according to newly filed disclosure records.“
Speaking of Arizona Republicans in hot water, Rep. Rick Renzi is indicted on 35 counts of “conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, extortion and insurance fraud.” Kicked off the House Intelligence Committee when news of his shadiness emerged in 2005, Renzi also played a role in the persecuted prosecutors scandal, when it came out that both he and former AG Alberto Gonzales had pressured the US attorney to hold fire on him.
Only one year after his re-election (and five years after his Strom Thurmond moment of candor), GOP Senator and former Majority Leader Trent Lott announces he’s resigning from office at the end of this year. [Announcement.] Why so soon? “Lott said that he was going to move into the private sector after 35 years in Congress, but denied that he was getting out before a new two-year ‘cooling-off’ restriction takes effect on Jan. 1. The restriction bars lawmakers from taking lobbying jobs for two years after they leave public service.“
“The White House has said that Jack Abramoff had very little contact with the President’s staff and that it wanted all the relevant facts to be public. The 600 pages of documents it is withholding are directly relevant and should be produced.” Remember Casino Jack? Henry Waxman does, and has asked the White House to produce 600 pages of information previously withheld from the House investigation into Abramoff’s activities. (And this time, the White House might actualy play ball. Given an out by Waxman — that the information might be shown only to committee staff rather than going public — White House Counsel Fred Fielding pounced, “saying he was ‘pleased that such a concept is proposed in your letter’ and pledging to ‘seek to accommodate our respective interests in the documents we have withheld.’“)
Where does the GOP’s commitment to free market fundamentalism reach its limit? Where there’s money to be made, of course. The Post looks into the rise of no-bid contracts under Dubya. “A recent congressional report estimated that federal spending on contracts awarded without ‘full and open’ competition has tripled, to $207 billion, since 2000, with a $60 billion increase last year alone.“
It played its part against the Barksdale operation in Baltimore. Now it seems an undercover wire may have helped bring down GOP rep and Abramoff flunky Bob Ney. “‘Heaton’s substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of Ney was critical to Ney’s decision to admit his involvement in the corrupt relationship with Abramoff,’ Butler wrote. ‘The tapes made by Heaton captured important circumstantial evidence that statements Ney had made to others about matters material to the investigation were false or intentionally misleading.’“
Meanwhile, the probes continue: Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, the former #3 man at CIA who was linked to Randy “Duke” Cunninhgam’s bribery operation last year, was indicted yesterday for steering CIA contracts to his GOP cronies and telling them classified information about other bidders. Also indicted, Foggo and Cunningham’s co-conspirator, Mitchell Wade‘s business associate, and GOP fundraiser Brent R. Wilkes, who, among his other alleged crimes, arranged for paid prostitutes for Cunningham as part of the bribe package. “Wilkes, a Republican Party “Pioneer” who raised more than $100,000 for President Bush’s reelection in 2004 [has also] donated — in concert with his business colleagues — $656,396 to 64 other Republican lawmakers and the national Republican Party committees in Washington from 1995 through the third quarter of 2005.“
The DeLay-Abramoff era in DC may be a thing of the past, but the investigations into flagrant GOP corruption continue. Now, word leaks out that the Casino Jack probe has targeted another official in Dubya’s Interior: J. Stephen Griles. “Griles was a controversial figure at Interior, strongly criticized by the department’s inspector general for maintaining ties to energy and mining companies that were once his lobbying clients.“
Meanwhile, over in the newly Democratic Senate: With Wednesday’s House cleaning spurring similar ethics reform in the upper chamber, a progressive dream team of Russ Feingold and Barack Obama unveil the Senate Dems’ ethics reform package, which includes a provision for an independent Office of Public Integrity, a key element of reform which failed 67-30 last year on the GOP’s watch.
“These problems are getting worse, not better, and it’s because the judiciary hasn’t taken some simple steps to make them go away.” A Post report finds ethical violations are rampant among several federal judges, usually of the conflict-of-interest or boondoggle variety. “A second set of ethical lapses involves seminars held at resorts by a Montana-based group, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE). On at least six occasions from 2002 to 2004, federal judges accepted air travel, food and lodging from the libertarian foundation but did not list the gifts on their annual disclosure reports, as required by law, documents and interviews show.”
Good news for the Union Station food court: Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) successfully add a ban on lobbyist-paid meals to the reform bill. (Santorum, you say? Well, apparently, he chooses to conduct his theoretically-suspended meetings with lobbyists after breakfast.) And here’s a strange “reform” addition to the same bill: “Separately, the Senate approved by voice vote an amendment by Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) that would deny to any lawmaker a pay increase that he votes against but that eventually becomes law.“
“In a different era I’d be killed on the street or have poison poured into my coffee.” Matt Drudge previews a forthcoming Vanity Fair interview with Casino Jack, and interspersed among the delusions of grandeur are more indications that GOP higher-ups — among them Dubya, DeLay, Newt, Burns, Mehlman, and McCain — knew Abramoff better than they’re letting on. “You’re really no one in this town unless you haven’t met me.” Update: Reuters confirms.
As Randy “Duke” Cunningham faces sentencing today, federal investigators take a closer look at his connections to the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), “the Pentagon’s newest and fastest-growing intelligence agency.” “In pre-sentencing documents filed this week, prosecutors said that in fiscal 2003 legislation, Cunningham set aside, or earmarked, $6.3 million for work to be done ‘to benefit’ CIFA shortly after the agency was created. The contract went to MZM Inc., a company run by Mitchell J. Wade, who recently pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe Cunningham.” Update: 8 years, 4 months.
The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, which has recently been looking into lobbying reform, votes 11-5 on an amendment by George Voinovich (R-OH) to prevent the creation of an independent ethics office. (Three Dems joined the Republicans, minus Chair Susan Collins, to kill the plan.) While Voinovich claims an independent office would be redundant given the Senate Ethics Committee (which he chairs), watchdog groups such as Public Citizen are livid, and John McCain has already suggested he’ll likely renew the idea on the Senate floor.
Still, reformers face a serious challenge in the growing audacity of the GOP, who are banking on the Casino Jack story not catching fire outside the Beltway: “[A]s the legislation has evolved and Abramoff has faded from the headlines, calls for bans have grown scarce, and expanded disclosure has become the centerpiece of the efforts underway.” Nevertheless, the Republicans are playing with fire: The ballad of Casino Jack plays on, as attested by prosecutors recently subpoenaing travel agency records of a 2000 DeLay-Abramoff boondoggle to Britain.
File this one next to Red Scorpion: The Boston Globe uncovers that, among Casino Jack’s various other projects, Abramoff wanted to dig for oil in Israel, and had established a company, First Gate Resources, with some Russian investors to do so. It seems these investors, “energy company executives of a Moscow firm called Naftasib,” may also have paid for a 1997 DeLay-Abramoff boondoggle to Moscow. Also, the Feds “have sought information about Naftasib’s interest in congressional support for Russian projects financed through the International Monetary Fund.” The plot thickens…
In round one of the Senate legislative response to Casino Jack, Trent Lott circulates a reform bill that would stifle earmarks and mandate the disclosure of meals paid for by lobbyists. Well, it’s a start…but for now, Dems seem wary of the bill, “which seemed to be less stringent on several points than legislation they have proposed.”
Surprise, surprise: When it comes to cleaning the money out of Congress, the GOP are playing to form. “The rush to revise ethics laws in the wake of the Jack Abramoff political corruption scandal has turned into more of a saunter…The primary holdup is in the House…[where] progress was slowed by the election two weeks ago of a new majority leader, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has a different notion of what ‘reform’ should entail.”
Little ditty about Jack and Dubya: “Bush ‘has one of the best memories of any politicians I have ever met,’ Abramoff wrote to Kim Eisler of Washingtonian magazine. ‘The guys saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids.’” Confiding to a reporter friend (and contrary to the White House’s protestations,) Casino Jack complains that Dubya has forsaken him. In related news, as David Safavian, one of Abramoff’s White House men, is formally charged with obstruction of justice, TIME Magazine publishes the first pic of Dubya and Abramoff together, although it’s not what you’d call a slam dunk. Casino Jack (and Karl Rove) merely lurk in the corners while Bush presses the flesh of Abramoff’s clients. Ok, they’re in the same room together — that’s a start. But there’s undoubtedly better pics of the two out there…it’s only a matter of time.
My, what a coincidence. New majority leader John A. Boehner is “renting his Capitol Hill apartment from a veteran lobbyist whose clients have direct stakes in legislation Boehner has co-written and that he has overseen as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee.” That’s Strike 3: Coupled with his stonewalling on lobbying reform and his passing out Big Tobacco checks on the House floor in 1995, it’s becoming abundantly clear that Boehner is just another corrupt GOP party boss in the DeLay mold. I wonder, will that sword of righteousness, John McCain, have anything to say about Boehner’s behavior?
In a fit of misplaced pique, John McCain goes house on Barack Obama over his relatively innocuous decision to skip McCain’s proposed “bipartisan” task force on lobbying revisions (and, by extension, Obama’s point that the Ballad of Casino Jack is primarily a GOP scandal.) I’ve been generally sympathetic to McCain’s work for campaign finance and lobbying reform throughout his career, but, frankly, the outrage of this letter is way outta line. I just posted on this in the comments at National Journal, so I’ll just repost here:
“I’d be more impressed with McCain’s alleged commitment to bipartisan reform if (a) he could find Dems other than Joe Lieberman and Bill Nelson* — not exactly the Democratic mainstream — to back his “task force” play, (b) he didn’t consistently allow himself to be used as the “mythical maverick” smokescreen for GOP lobbying abuses, and (c) he displayed half as much righteous outrage when the Dubya administration eviscerated his anti-torture legislation, violated both the FISA Act and the National Security Act of 1947 with their illegal wiretaps, and generally stood in the way of serious campaign finance reform. Sure, McCain talks tough at Barack Obama, but everytime Dubya comes a-knockin’ at his door, he folds like an accordion, even despite the ugly incident in the South Carolina primary six years ago.
The Republican Party controls the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and — arguably — the Supreme Court at this moment. Is it really McCain’s contention that Barack Obama, a freshman Senator in the minority party, is the one stopping real lobbying and campaign finance reform from happening? Please. If McCain wants real reform, he should be directing his wrath at the people in charge. Otherwise, he’s even more guilty of putting the partisan game above the public interest than is Obama.” Update: Obama answers.
Behind closed doors, the Republicans talk amongst themselves about lobbying reform, with the status quo beating back a challenge by reformers to vote on new GOP leadership across the board (except for Hastert.) “‘All we were doing was asking us to look in the mirror,’ Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the motion, said after the vote. ‘The shadow of [Jack] Abramoff is not a mere distraction but a serious problem to address.’” Meanwhile, in the race for Majority Leader, while Blunt might be on the threshold of maintaining the DeLay ring’s hold over the House GOP, Boehner apparently proved himself no friend to reform either. Speaking on the GOP’s anti-lobbying package, he “scoffed that Congress knows how to do just two things well — nothing and overreact, according to witnesses.” And Boehner leads the candidates in former-staffers-turned-lobbyists.
But, give ‘em credit — the GOP have at least succeeded in kicking lobbyists out of the House gym. “The rule change passed overwhelmingly, 379 to 50, but not before Democrats — and some Republicans — ridiculed it as meaningless. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) suggested that lawmakers compromise and change the rules so that lobbyists must yield to lawmakers who want to use the gym equipment they are on. ‘I’m a gym guy; I’ve never seen anybody lobbied there,’ said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). ‘I’ve never seen any nefarious plots hatched on the treadmill.’” Just in case, though, Boss DeLay voted against the change.
Update: It’s Boehner on the second ballot over Blunt, 122-109. (Looks like the Shadegg-Boehner deal went through — On the first ballot, Blunt, who will remain Majority Whip, was only 7 votes shy of winning.)
“‘In 1994, when the Congress was taken over by Republicans, there were 4,000 earmarks on appropriations bills,’ [McCain] told the committee. ‘Last year there were 15,000. It’s disgraceful, this process.’” A Senate Committee chaired by Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman began discussing the Senate’s post-Abramoff cleanup today, with McCain, Feingold and others calling for systematic and comprehensive reform, including the end of “earmarking” (i.e. adding pork to appropriations bills.) “McCain said he was especially bothered that at the end of the last congressional session, various extraneous appropriations were ‘larded onto the money that was supposed to be devoted to the men and women in the military and their ability to conduct the war on terror.’“
Still trying to get ahead of the Abramoff story, the House GOP unveil their new anti-lobbying bill. The package includeds “the banning of privately sponsored travel” (so long, Scotland boondoggles), as well as “a virtual ban on gifts, except for inconsequential items like baseball caps, and a provision that will affect few people: elimination of congressional pensions for anyone convicted of a felony related to official duties…One important part of the GOP plan would increase — from one year to two years — the waiting period before former lawmakers and senior staff members could lobby Congress.” Common Cause’s response: Sounds like a good start, but let’s talk enforcement. As for the Dems, they’ll announce their own plan — with a stricter gift ban — later this week.
Update: “Today we as Democrats are declaring our commitment to change, change to a government as good and as honest as the people that we serve.” The Dems announce their own reform plans, which “go further than the Republicans’ proposals. Rather than limiting the value of a gift to $20, as House Republicans are considering, Democrats would prohibit all gifts from lobbyists….Lawmakers would have to publicly disclose negotiations over private-sector jobs…House and Senate negotiators working out final versions of legislation would have to meet in open session, with all members of the conference committee — not just Republicans — having the opportunity to vote on amendments. Legislation would have to be posted publicly 24 hours before congressional consideration.” And, as bc posted in the comments, James Carville and Paul Begala have offered their own comprehensive campaign finance-ethics plan, which involves public financing of candidates and a total ban on incumbent fundraising. Now that’s the type of bold, outside-the-box thinking I’d like to see more of right now. Particularly given that, as the Washington Post pointed out, the GOP ethics bill won’t work at all unless it’s coupled with serious campaign finance reform.
“‘The Ney situation has changed after the plea agreement,’ said a House Republican insider close to the talks. ‘There are people that have pled guilty who have conspired to bribe him.’” As part of the post-Abramoff GOP clean-up/cover-up, Speaker Hastert pressures DeLay flunky Bob Ney to resign as chairman of the House Administration Committee. And conservative Arizona Republican John Shadegg joins the House Leadership race, hoping to benefit from his lack of lobbying ties compared to Blunt and Boehner, the two frontrunners.
In the continuing Abramoff fallout department, a disgraced Boss DeLay has picked up a primary challenger, Tom Campbell, in his home district. “‘If we don’t clean house in March, we’ll lose the House in November,’ Campbell said.” Meanwhile, as the GOP tries to choose between two K-Street darlings for their new majority leader, the House looks to the McCain-Shays bill of last month as a template for new lobbying restrictions.”The McCain bill would beef up lobbying disclosure considerably and cover grass-roots lobbying campaigns, which now go unreported. It would also require lobbyists to report each fundraising event that they host or sponsor for candidates for federal office, including the amount raised. In addition, the McCain bill would require lobbyists to report the donations they give to lawmakers directly and at events that honor lawmakers or entities that they created or control. It would also require lobbyists to disclose quarterly — which would be twice as often as they file now — any gift worth more than $20 that they give to lawmakers or their aides, including meals and tickets to events.” Sounds like a start…but it’ll take more than increased disclosure to transform a Washington culture that’s turned rancid in recent years thanks to overwhelming lobbyist influence.
More bad news for Boss DeLay: Once again, a Texas court has refused to dismiss money-laundering charges against him. Meanwhile, Speaker Dennis Hastert taps David Dreier to pen new lobbying rules for the House (ignoring the fact that Dems, with the aid of Republican Chris Shays, composed stricter lobbying legislation months ago.) And GOP insiders (and, basically, DeLay flunkies) Roy Blunt and John Boehner scramble to take DeLay’s place as majority leader, despite both being tainted by Abramoff contributions. Two days after the Hammer’s fall, and it’s already becoming clear: The only real way to cleanse Congress of this current wave of corruption is the ballot box, come November.
“The job of majority leader and the mandate of the Republican majority are too important to be hamstrung, even for a few months, by personal distractions.” Whether it be due to Abramoff’s encroaching testimony, the uprising of GOP moderates, Duke Cunningham’s wire, or all of the above, Boss DeLay has admitted defeat and given up his post for good. While this is excellent news, there’s still much work to do: The ringleader may be dethroned, but the DeLay Ring persists. Hopefully prosecutors in Texas and the Justice Department, as well as members of Congress shamed by the rampant corruption characterizing DeLay’s reign, won’t rest until the Hammer is thrown out of the House and taken to the woodshed. In fact, with any luck, Boss DeLay will be a featured member of the Big House before long.
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