As one of the architects of the “contract with America,” House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) loudly trumpets the need for change in Congress. However, in two important areas--lobbying and gifts--Armey and many of his GOP colleagues in the House have shown a clear lack of enthusiasm for reform.
Lawmakers are kidding themselves if they think this indifference is lost on the public. Americans are fed up with politicians who receive free Caribbean vacations and free lobster Thermidor at Washington’s pricey eateries.
In the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans seem to be getting the message. Senators have risen above partisan politics to forge a compromise on two measures designed to curb cozy relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers.
One bill, which requires House approval after being passed unanimously in the Senate, would place the first new registration and reporting requirements on lobbyists since the Truman Administration. In addition, the Senate changed its internal rules--albeit self-policing ones--to prevent its members from receiving gifts, meals and entertainment valued at more than $50 or accepting more than $100 in gifts from any one person in a year. Senators and their staffs would also be barred from accepting privately paid travel to “recreational events.”
Sens. William S. Cohen (R-Me.), Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) deserve credit for their leadership in pushing these changes; the same cannot be said of their House counterparts. Asked when the lobbying and gift restriction might be brought up for a vote, Armey’s office replied that “the schedule is pretty much full.”
And speaking of full, that’s an apt description of the dinner plates and vacation schedules of far too many House members.