Lobbying reform, ethics staffing in limbo

House Republicans are frustrated that Democrats beat them to the punch on lobbying-reform legislation.

Reps. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) introduced a catchall lobbying-reform bill this month that would require more disclosure, ban privately funded travel and double to two years the time former members of Congress must wait to lobby lawmakers.

House Republicans also capitulated to an ethics investigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) even though no lawmaker had filed a complaint against him.

“There is some frustration on our side. If [Democrats] really cared about ethics, they’d be filing some complaints, but where are they? There are not any,” a senior GOP aide said.

House Republican aides said they have reviewed Meehan’s bill but do not believe it can pass. For now, they said, they feel that the Republicans do not need to counter with their own concrete reforms after Democrats rejected a proposal from House ethics committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to let the ethics panel pre-approve privately funded trips.

“There’s not a problem, and the issue does not resonate back home, not when gas prices are above $2 a gallon, healthcare costs are rising and Social Security remains an issue,” said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), adding that the rules in place now are “fine.”

The senior House GOP aide said, “There’s no rush to pass this bill, and there’s no rush to counter this bill. It’s a tactical move by Democrats to say they did something on ethics.”

Nevertheless, Republicans said they are in a political bind on ethical matters. If Republicans propose a bill, they risk criticism if it is not as tough as Meehan’s bill. They believe that, for political gain in the 2006 midterm elections, Democrats want to foster the perception that Congress cannot monitor the misbehavior of its own members.

Emanuel has said he will make ethical issues the centerpiece of Democrats’ campaigns.

But Democratic leaders are split on the Meehan-Emanuel measure. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has co-sponsored the measure; Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has not.

House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) has said he will address a lobbying-reform bill after marking up a bill to reform the so-called 527 political committees. A markup was postponed yesterday until after the Memorial Day recess because ranking Democrat Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) had emergency surgery.

In the meantime, Pelosi and former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) sent letters to Hastert earlier this month addressing the staffing dispute at the ethics panel.

Hastings wants his and Mollohan’s aides on the committee to be more actively involved in jointly managing the work of the committee’s other staff members. Hastings has told Mollohan in writing that he’s willing to wall off both designated staffers from any involvement in the investigative work of the committee.

Six new jobs and several others remain unfilled. Hastings has $1.3 million to increase staffing.

Rep. Allan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, told The Hill, “What [Hastings is] doing is an end-run around” Paragraph F of Rule 6 of the committee’s rules, which requires staffers to be approved by a majority of the lawmakers on the committee.

Pelosi urged the Speaker to address the dispute over how to staff the ethics panel.

“[It] is of critical importance that this matter be resolved before the Memorial Day recess. It is also evident that this will not occur without your intervention, which is needed now,” Pelosi wrote in the May 19 letter, to which Hastert has not responded.

Livingston, who chaired a task force that revamped House ethics rules in 1997, wrote that he supported Hastings’s plans to staff the ethics panel.

“I am concerned by press reports that progress … may be delayed further by a disagreement between the panel’s chairman and ranking minority member over staffing issues,” Livingston wrote.

But Pelosi disputed Livingston’s characterization of his recommendations, writing, “That view is entirely at odds with the plain meaning of the rules as well as my recollection of the task force’s deliberations, and it is completely unacceptable.”