Late last night the Senate Republicans blocked action on the bipartisan ethics legislation that they had been debating since the opening of the 110th Congress. Republicans blocked the measure because Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democrats refused to vote on an unrelated amendment that would give the President line-item veto authority, a transfer of power that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court back in 1998. (See these CRS Reports on Line-Item Veto: 1, 2.) Sen. Reid had already stated that amendments that were nongermane to ethics and lobbying reform, including amendments related to campaign finance issues, would not be addressed during this debate. Reid even told Sen. Judd Gregg, the proponent of the line-item veto amendment, that the Senate would debate the issue separately in the future.
But instead the Republican Minority insisted on blocking the strongest aspects of the ethics reform up for debate. Sen. Reid implemented a parliamentary tactic to allow the bill to come back up for debate but for now it looks like the bipartisan replacement amendment, which was cosponsored by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is on hold. All of those amendments that have been added over the past two weeks have been scuttled by this attempt at increasing Presidential authority.
Perhaps some of these Senators blocking further action were terrified of buying their own lunch instead of relying on lobbyists or paying for their own flights instead of relying on corporate jets; maybe they don't want to live in a world where lobbyists can't throw parties for them at Presidential conventions; or they could be afraid of earmark disclosure and committees being forced to post their hearings online. I think that's what Sen. Trent Lott and Sen. Ben Nelson, who
both(ed-my mistake, only Lott voted to block) voted to block the ethics bill, are getting at here:
Still, Mr. Lott, who oversaw the weaker bill that was introduced last year, also acknowledged some impatience with the zeal for new rules.
“It’s gotten out of control,” Mr. Lott said. “We’re involved in a long process of self-flagellation.”
Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, agreed. “I think this whole process has gotten out of control,” he said. “Only in Washington, when somebody like Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham breaks the law, you suddenly have to change the law.”
Oh, only when people abuse their position and break laws repeatedly do you have to toughen those laws to make it more difficult to violate the trust of the people who elected you. Only in Washington indeed, Sen. Nelson.
If this ethics bill does not get through then the individual parts of the bill must be broken apart and passed individually. First, start with the earmark reforms; the Durbin/DeMint compromise amendment must be passed. Break away the other parts and pass them as well. And if the Republicans insist on a vote on the line-item veto why don't they just bring that up separately. For now, if I'm Sen. Reid I would force the Senate to stay in session all weekend, especially on Sunday for the NFC and AFC championship games, until they passed it.