Senate drops vote to penalize ex-members who become lobbyists

The Senate dropped a vote on a proposed amendment on Thursday that would have stripped ex-senators who become lobbyists of their taxpayer-funded pensions. 

A vote on the amendment offered by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would have been potentially embarrassing for several senators who are retiring at the end of the year and might be interested in taking lucrative jobs on K Street. 

A spokesman for Paul told The Hill on Thursday that the senator agreed to allow Democratic leadership to exclude the amendment from the final voting package in exchange for roll call votes on three other of his amendments. Paul was only senator to receive three roll call votes in Thursday's amendment vote-o-rama.

Paul introduced the amendment in the Senate on Tuesday night by taking a veiled swing at presidential contender, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, and arguing that lawmakers ought not to be able to enrich themselves just because they served in Congress. 

"I think the ability to serve in the Senate and the House of Representatives is a great honor but I am somewhat sickened and somewhat saddened by people... who leave office and become lobbyists, who leave office and call themselves historians, that basically leave office and pedal the friendships they have found here and the relationships to make money," said Paul. 

"I think its hard to prevent people from being lobbyists but I think if people choose to leave the Senate and the House of Representatives and become lobbyists they should give up something," he said. "These people are making millions of dollars lobbying Congress, I think maybe they should give up their pension. Maybe they should give up their health benefits that are subsidized by the taxpayer." 

The amendment, however, drew immediate and bipartisan criticism. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the language was "extraordinarily broad" and would define lobbying remuneration as "salary, consulting fees, honoraria and paid authorship."

"I don't know if this would even pass constitutional muster but there is certainly a fairness issue," she said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also said the amendment was designed to "harass members of Congress in their retirement."

The Hill reported last month that K-street head hunters are already salivating over the more than twenty-five lawmakers who intend to retire from Congress this year. 

Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) who is chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) who is the minority whip and a member of the Finance Committee, and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) the chairman of the Agriculture subcommittee on Commodities, Markets, Trade and Risk Management all intend to retire this year and would likely fetch between $800,000 and $1.5 million annually as lobbyists, the Hill reported.