On the third day of their tempest Wednesday, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama playfully cocked their fists, mugged for the cameras and, in the middle of a newly minted bipartisan love fest, resumed their Senate business.
As the two came face to face for the first time since their brief letter-writing feud began this week, they pulled up their chairs to testify before the Senate Rules Committee and pledged to join forces to ensure integrity in Congress through ethics and lobbying reform.
“I’m particularly pleased to be sharing this panel with my pen pal, John McCain,” Obama (D-Ill.) said with a smile. “And I look forward to working with him on this very important work.”
McCain (R-Ariz.), who had ignited the mini-furor Monday by dressing down Obama for alleged partisanship, declared: “We will continue to work together and I value his input.”
The two senators have emerged as leading voices in an attempt to limit the influence of money on politics by writing new rules for how lobbyists and lawmakers interact.
Their proposal derailed after Obama said he favored the Democratic plan, prompting McCain to accuse his colleague of putting partisanship ahead of the public good.
Although McCain and Obama said they had set aside their differences, the difficulties of achieving reform remain in a politically charged congressional election year in which Democrats have accused Republicans of fostering a “culture of corruption.”
In his testimony Wednesday, McCain said he wanted to focus on ending “earmarks” -- pork barrel projects designated for local districts added to spending bills -- that cost taxpayers billions. In 1994 there were 4,126 earmarks he said, but by last year the number had climbed to 15,877.
Obama said he didn’t disagree, but added that Congress must not only approve new laws to govern lobbyists and politicians, but must enforce the rules. He proposed creating a new disciplinary commission made up of former judges and lawmakers to police Congress.
“The one area that I want to make certain that we focus on is the lobbying reform and not just earmarks,” Obama said later. “I have a fear that we may go for the easiest, low-hanging fruit and we don’t move out of our comfort zone and do some things that might be tough, but ultimately will be important to restoring credibility.”