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Friday, January 19, 2007


Winds of Change - Lobbying Reform

Impressive achievement. Congress passed a reform package that is not quite foolproof but it has teeth, enough teeth to put a crimp in the unhealthy relationship that existed between elected representatives and the lobbying industry. As expected, Republicans tried to lessen the impact by amendments but failed. The strong message from voters in the mid-term elections made them leery of being too aggressive in blocking passage of the legislation.

How things have changed ! It was a year ago on January 18, 2006, that Jeffrey Birnbaum wrote in the Washington Post about the then Speaker Hastert's proposal for lobbyist-friendly reform legislation:

One can say goodbye to all that. The reform legislation passed by Senate is quite different. It is a big step toward transparency and curbing of corrupt practices. Although, in recent years, it was the Republicans who completely sold themselves to special interest groups, some Democrats were willing participants in sharing the freebies.

The Senate legislation, hailed by proponents as the most significant ethics reform since Watergate, would ban gifts, meals and travel funded by lobbyists, and would force lawmakers to attach their names to special-interest provisions and pet projects that they slip into bills. Lawmakers would have to pay charter rates on corporate jets, not the far-cheaper first-class rates they pay now.

The House earlier this month approved similar language as part of an internal rules change. But other portions of the Senate-passed measure would carry the weight of law and would have impacts far beyond the Capitol. The House would have to pass comparable legislation for those provisions to take effect.

One of those legislative provisions would force lobbyists to publicly disclose the small campaign donations they collect from clients and "bundle" into large donations to politicians. Bundling is a way for lobbyists to contribute far more money to candidates and thus wield more influence than they could by making individual contributions, which are currently limited to $2,100 per candidate for each election cycle. Lavish gatherings thrown by lobbyists and corporate interests at party conventions would be banned.

State of the Union

In other news, the great Decider is reported to be polishing up the State of the Union speech that he will read on Tuesday, January 23. It could include initiatives for energy and health care ! The main thrust, of course, will be to promote his latest plan for Iraq, a disaster that he and the necons created and very successfully sold to the nation. But those of you who will follow the telecast are likely to notice something different. I could be wrong but I doubt that the Republicans will bob up and down from their seats like marionettes every time the president ends a sentence. The war has taken its toll. They have lost their enthusiasm for the lies. Their constitutents sent them a strong message last November. They will be restrained in their applause. Old habits,however, die hard. Reflex action ?

A Reality-Based State of the Union

A president who reduces the near-infinite variety of humankind to "with us" or "against us" has mired the nation in a disastrous, unnecessary war. Comparisons to Vietnam are imprecise -- the American casualties in Iraq are lower, the geopolitical stakes are much higher and the damage to our nation's standing in the world has been incalculable.

Some believe that the president sees clearly the futility of his ill-advised war and that at this point he's just stalling so his successor will take the fall for an eventual American withdrawal. Those cynics are wrong; George W. Bush has demonstrated time and again that he values resolve over reason.

The us-or-them president is now assuming an elbows-out posture toward Iran that is disturbingly reminiscent of the run-up to war in Iraq -- denunciations, threats, a military buildup in the Persian Gulf. Haven't we seen this movie before?


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