Outside editorial: Enough: Congress needs to pass lobbying reform

Posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Today's lesson in how a bill doesn't become law involves lobbying reform. Given the Jack Abramoff scandal and the November election results, you might have thought that this would be one of the few things Congress could actually get done. Indeed, the Senate passed its version of lobbying reform in January by a vote of 96 to 2. The House took longer but passed its version in May, 382 to 37. According to civics books, each house appoints conferees, they work out the relatively minor differences between the measures and - presto! - the bill becomes law. But civics books don't reckon with institutional resistance to change - especially change that could affect lawmakers' own interests - or the capacity of the Senate to tie itself in knots over even the most routine procedures.

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There's a lot of finger-pointing here: Democrats are blaming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for balking at naming conferees; Republicans are accusing Democrats, anxious for some legislative success, of political grandstanding. For a time before the July Fourth break, it looked as if the measure might be able to go forward: Mr. McConnell, after previously resisting, said that he would appoint conferees. Then, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., piped up to insist that a provision to restrict earmarks be included.

Enough is enough. It's time to get this bill done. Neither the House nor the Senate measure is perfect, but either would effect significant improvements over the unacceptable status quo. The most critical improvement is also the most controversial: requiring lobbyists to disclose the bundles of campaign cash they collect for lawmakers. Both the Senate and House bills contain versions of this reform, which would shed light on the influence that lobbyists wield. For that reason, some lawmakers of both parties would be happy to see the provision quietly die. That can't be allowed to happen. If he can't get unanimous consent this week to name conferees, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., should dare opponents to filibuster.

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