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01 April 2006

Lobbying "Reform" Approved by Senate Merely a Charade

For those who believed the Abramoff scandal would result in serious reform of the cozy lobbyist / congressman relationship, the Senate's 90-8 vote on Wednesday for an anemic reform bill was just another exercise in self-congratulatory PR.

Only a few true reformers, John McCain and Russ Feingold among them, refused to join in the bi-partisan charade that merely provided 90 senators with a political fig leaf on the issue of lobbying reform. Yes, it's true that now our representatives cannot accept a meal from a lobbyist or a citizen. But among the abuses that were preserved were extensive (and expensive) junkets, basically lavish vacations disguised as "research projects" that are funded by the same lobbyists, but run through qualifying public policy institutes for appearances sake. To make matters worse, the offending congressmen can still use corporate aircraft for personal or political travel, provided that they pay a deeply discounted price for the seat that doesn't come close to paying the costs of the flight, and of course at a price that you and I could never access. Funny how the only things that survived were things that only deep-pocketed special interests groups could afford. A simple constituent might be able to afford to take his congressman out for lunch, but of course would never have access to a G-5 or the ability to sponsor a "study" of cultural unrest in, say, Paris.

One other thing that boggles my mind. The Senate debated whether to eliminate budget earmarks, the preferred method for inserting pork into spending bills in the dead of night immediately prior to the bill's final approval. Such earmarks are so stealthily included that even the Las Vegas CSI team would never be able to find the fingerprints of the offending Senator. The Senate voted down the elimination of their favorite pork tool, and that is not what baffles me. What I don't get is why President Bush, who wants to argue for a line-item veto which has already been ruled unconstitutional, doesn't just ignore those earmarks and send the excess money back to the treasury. He would be within his right to do it, but apparently he would rather not anger the status quo in Congress.

To make matters worse, neither the pro Democrat media (CNN, the major networks) nor the pro Republican media (talk radio, Fox News) seems to be all that upset by the failure of the Senate to take meaningful action. This issue is apparently too subtle to attract any interest even in the wake of the Abramoff scandal.

Just another anecdote that makes me wonder whether we are capable of EVER reforming our broken system of governance.


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