WASHINGTON - AUGUST 9 - On March 29, 2006, the Republican-controlled Senate passed a Republican leadership lobbying and ethics bill that also included Senate rules changes to address the issue of earmarks.
The ethics and earmark portions of the legislation were developed and shepherded through the Senate by then Senate Rules Committee Chairman Trent Lott (R-MS).
Five current Senate Republican leaders, including Senator Lott, and four other Republican Senators who voted for the Republican bill that passed in 2006 voted against the landmark lobbying and ethics reform legislation that passed the Senate last week by a vote of 83 to 14.
''The main criticism voiced by the Republican Senators who voted against the reform legislation last week dealt with its earmark provisions, which, in the words of one Senator, 'is worse than doing nothing, because it only sustains the status quo,''' according to Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.
''Yet the reform legislation that these nine Senate Republicans voted against last week contained much stronger earmark reforms than the earmark reforms in the Republican bill they voted for in 2006,'' Wertheimer stated.
The five Republican leaders who voted for weaker earmark reforms in the Republican bill passed in 2006 and voted against stronger earmark reforms in the bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate last week are Senate Republican Whip Lott, Senate Republican Conference Chair John Kyl (R-AZ), Senate Republican Conference Vice-chair John Cornyn (R-TX), National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair John Ensign (R-NV) and Counsel to the Senate Minority Leader Bob Bennett (R-UT).
The other four Republican Senators who voted against the Senate-passed reform legislation last week after voting for the Republican bill in 2006 are Richard Burr (R-NC), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Larry Craig (R-ID) and Mike Crapo (R-ID).
''The argument that these nine Republican Senators had some legitimate basis for voting against the landmark reform bill last week on earmark policy grounds does not hold up at all. It is completely inconsistent with the votes of the nine Senators in 2006 for a bill with far weaker earmark provisions, and far weaker lobbying and ethics provisions,'' Wertheimer added.
Meanwhile, there are reports that President George Bush is considering vetoing the lobbying and ethics reform legislation which Congress has passed with overwhelming bipartisan votes in the House, 411 to 8, and the Senate, 83 to 14.
''There is absolutely no basis for President Bush to veto this landmark reform legislation and block Congress and the nation from addressing the corruption, lobbying and ethics scandals that have plagued Washington in recent years, right up until now,'' Wertheimer stated.
''Certainly the important earmark provisions in the bill provide no justification for the President to veto the most important and far-reaching lobbying and ethics reforms since the Watergate era,'' Wertheimer said.
''The lobbying and ethics reforms were passed by Congress in response to the deep concerns of the American people about corruption in Washington – concerns that were made clear in the 2006 election. President Bush should not ignore the demands of the American people to address the scandals in Washington that in the case of the historic Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals involved the Executive Branch as well as Congress,'' Wertheimer stated.
Weaker earmark provisions in 2006 Republican bill (S.2349) versus stronger earmark provisions in 2007 bill passed last week by Senate (S.1)
S. 2349, the Republican bill passed by the Senate in 2006 amended Senate rules to make it not in order to consider ''any Senate bill or Senate amendment or conference report on any bill'' unless there was a list of all earmarks in the measure, an identification of the Member or Members who proposed each earmark, and an explanation of the ''essential governmental purpose'' of the earmark, and the list was made available to the public on the Internet at least 48 hours before its consideration.''
The earmark provisions in S.1 passed last week cover the same Senate ''bills,'' ''amendments'' and ''conference reports'' and in addition provide for broader and more comprehensive coverage.
Scope of Coverage
The earmark provisions in S.1 require disclosure of earmarks included in committee reports accompanying a bill, and in joint resolutions, such as a Continuing Resolution. Last year's Republican bill did not include either committee reports or joint resolutions in the earmark disclosure requirements. Since many earmarks are contained in committee report language, and not the legislation itself, failure to cover the earmarks designated in committee reports was a major omission in the Republican bill in 2006.
The definition of ''earmarks'' in S.1 is much broader than the definition in the 2006 Republican leadership bill. The Republican bill last year defined ''earmark'' to include a provision that ''specifies the identity of a non-Federal entity to receive assistance and the amount of assistance.'' This left entirely out of the provision's coverage the earmarks that are made to federal entities. These earmarks constitute a substantial number of the earmarks that are made each year.
Under the Senate bill passed last week, a ''congressionally directed spending item'' includes any provision in a bill ''or report language'' which was included primarily at the request of a Senator and which either authorizes or recommends a specific amount of budget authority, credit authority or other spending authority.
This provision covers federal entities and covers ''report language,'' two major improvements over the 2006 Republican bill.
Furthermore, unlike the Republican bill in 2006, the Senate bill passed last week covers earmarks even if the recipient is not specifically identified.
The Senate bill passed last week also requires that earmarks in any classified portion of a report accompanying a bill, joint resolution or conference report be identified in unclassified language to the greatest extent practicable, consistent with the need to protect national security, and that the earmark sponsor be identified. There was no provision in the 2006 Republican bill to deal with earmarks in classified portions of a report.
The bill passed last week also provides the opportunity for more timely disclosure than the bill passed in 2006.
The Republican bill passed last year required disclosure of earmarks at least 48 hours before a bill, amendment or conference report was to be considered.
The bill passed by the Senate last week also has a provision requiring disclosure 48 hours prior to floor consideration. The bill further requires that whenever a committee reports a bill or joint resolution that contains an earmark, or has earmarks in the committee report that accompanies the bill or joint resolution, the committee ''as soon as practicable'' after committee action shall make the list of earmarks publicly available.
This provides the opportunity for disclosure of earmarks to occur well before the two-day period prior to Senate floor consideration, the disclosure required by the 2006 Republican bill.
The bill passed last week also requires that all information about earmarks in bills and resolutions be made available in a ''searchable format'' on the Internet. There was no requirement in the Republican bill passed last year for a ''searchable format.''
The bill passed last week requires that any Senator who requests an earmark must provide a written statement certifying that neither the Senator nor his immediate family has ''a pecuniary interest'' in the earmark. All certifications are to be made publicly available ''as soon as practicable.'' There was no comparable certification requirement in the Republican bill passed last year.
''Any Senator who voted for the Republican bill in 2006 with its weaker earmark provisions had no basis for turning around and voting against the Senate bill last week with its much stronger earmark provisions, on the grounds that the earmark provisions were too weak,'' Wertheimer said.
''The earmark provisions in the bill passed last week are not without flaws and, like the new lobbying disclosure provisions and the new ethics rules, will need to be carefully monitored to ensure that they are properly implemented and enforced,'' Wertheimer stated.
''The earmark provisions in the bill passed by the Senate last week, however, far better than the earmark provisions in the Republican bill passed in 2006 by the Senate,'' Wertheimer stated.
''The idea that there is any earmark policy basis that justifies a Republican Senator voting for the Republican bill passed in 2006 with weaker earmark provisions, and then voting against the legislation passed in the Senate last week with much stronger earmark provisions is nonsense,'' Wertheimer stated.
''Similarly, a presidential veto of the reform legislation based on phony 'earmark' arguments, or on any other phony grounds, would make clear that in direct conflict with the American people President Bush has no interest in addressing the corruption, lobbying and ethics scandals in Washington,'' Wertheimer stated.
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