An "Ethics" Bill Special Interests Will Love?

Robert Novak says there is more (or is that less) to the Congressional Ethics legislation than meets the eye:

The final version of the widely celebrated ethics bill, approved by overwhelming margins in both the House and Senate a month ago, finally and quietly made its way last week from Capitol Hill to the White House. It surely will soon be signed into law by President Bush. What only a handful of leaders and insiders realize is that this measure, avowedly dedicated to transparency, actually makes it easier for the Senate to pass pet projects without the public -- or many senators -- being aware of it.

Until now, one or two senators could block provisions not passed by the Senate or House from being inserted, usually at the end of a session, into the final version of a bill. Under the new rule, it will take 40 senators to block any such provisions that are protected by the majority or even the bipartisan leadership. That will make it much easier to enact any number of special-interest measures, the goal of all too many members of Congress.

This momentous change could not have slipped by without bipartisan Senate leadership connivance, but it was unknown to rank-and-file senators -- much less the general public.

If this is true, it is a real disappointment -- and validates continuing skepticism of the Congressional leadership's promise of "reform."

rarango (mail):
Sorry for the cynicism, but why would this news suprise you? You actually expected the Democrats to do something? Both parties are devoted to pork and perks and with relatively safe, gerrymandered seats, the only thing that changes from time to time is the leadership.
9.10.2007 10:57am
I'm not sure it makes sense to allow 1 senator to block something when the other 99 think it's a good idea.

ranrango, do you not consider this legislation "something"?
9.10.2007 11:48am
rarango (mail):
GV: it is indeed "something," but it also also nothing that does anything to deal with the culture of corruption in congress. Assuming Mr. Novak is accurate (big assumption) it looks like this "something" has set up a system to streamline pork projects such as Senator Feinstein's 4 billion dollar earmark to West Hollywood.
9.10.2007 11:54am
Really? It does nothing? Have you looked at the legislation?
9.10.2007 12:11pm
rarango (mail):
GV: I have not read the legislation and have only statements from Senator Coburn and the Novak piece to look at. No unless there is something genuinely astoundingn in the legislation, the items cited by Novak and Coburn, suggest to me, that the requirement that 40 senators object to an earmark--because that is what we are talking about; and putting the earmark process under the wing of the Senate Majority Leader--tells me that this legislation makes it easier to run earmarked pork thru--and as a result, it does NOTHING. I would be interested in your analysis how about how this bill does something to improve the ethical climate in Congress.
9.10.2007 12:18pm
Having one or two senators able to block pet projects, not laws, is a good idea--one that obviously no one used nearly enough most likely out of fear of reprisal. I fail to see how this provision will change anything.
9.10.2007 12:18pm
Justin (mail):
Wow. Getting rid of secret holds is unethical now - even though that's what held up the ethics bill in the first place. Good thing nobody reads the bills and just takes GOP talking points for granted, otherwise they might have to view the Democratic Congress's bills on the merits.
9.10.2007 12:34pm
rarango (mail):
So Justin: so you think pork laden earmarks are now going away as a result of this bill? And Senators DeMint and Coborn, do not, unfortunately, reflect GOP talking points as they are not part of the GOP earmark crowd. If you think this ethics bill will lead to an open process, I would advise you to disregard emails from Nigeria.
9.10.2007 12:39pm
Justin (mail):
I don't think its possible to make something as epheremal and undefined as "pork" go away. But you're now goalpost moving, from arguing that the Democratic bill does nothing to the fact that it is not an impossible panacea - which you prove simply by pointing out that this would be impossible. Well, duh.
9.10.2007 12:48pm
rarango (mail):
Justin: I am not talking about the ephemeral pork; that is the pork that get reflected in appropriations bills; I am talking about the earmark kind of pork--which is quite specific and associated with a specific senator or representative. That is the kind of pork (earmark) that I want to go away, and this bill does nothing--absolutely nothing--to stop earmarks. If I "moved goal posts" I apologize, and it wasnt intended. I am still waiting for someone to tell me why this is a good bill.
9.10.2007 1:00pm
loki13 (mail):

I think what Justin is trying to point out is the following:
1. There are currently a lot of pork laden-projects.
2. There is currently a problem with secret senatorial holds.
3. Both 1 and 2, supra, are considered 'bad' from an ethical standpoint.
4. This bill is an attempt to inject more ethics into Congress by eliminating problem number 2.

It would therefore seem disingenuous for people to attack the bill for not eliminating problem 1, or (as Novak is doing) for arguing that it makes problem 1 more likely when senatorial holds are not used to discourage pork spending.

IOW, when you get 50 cents, we can all agree that it is not a dollar. But it is better than nothing.
9.10.2007 3:26pm
I.I (mail) (www):
Wouldn't there be a valid constitutional objection to any law which was amended in this manner? I can't see how sneaking something in under the radar like this fits the requirement of "Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate..."
9.10.2007 4:00pm
"Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate..."

They still vote on the final bill.
9.10.2007 4:18pm
"Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate..."

They still vote on the final bill.
9.10.2007 4:18pm
What Justin said. You're moving the goal posts rarango.

As I've said before, it's no wonder that Congress hasn't reformed itself; even when they begin to move in the right direction -- a direction that would have been unthinkinable in a republican controlled congress -- they get slammed for doing nothing. Is this bill the final fix? No. But it's a move in the right direction. (And I still don't see what's democratic about allowing one senator to hold something up that 99 others think is fine.)
9.10.2007 4:39pm

There is currently a problem with secret senatorial holds

There is? Are you saying the old rule is unethical? The one that enabled "one or two senators [to] block provisions not passed by the Senate or House from being inserted, usually at the end of a session, into the final version of a bill?"

Can you explain in more detail?
9.10.2007 5:47pm
Public_Defender (mail):
The rules made the passage of earmarks public. Maybe it's harder for two senators to block them, but the public will know about them. The ethical problems about earmarks were largely the secrecy and the possibility of quid pro quos.

Making them public solves the first ethical problem, and makes quid pro quo's more difficult.

Professor Adler is not making really making an ethical argument. He's making a policy argument about the role of government.
9.10.2007 9:32pm
Morat20 (mail):
Actually, my favorite part of the whole "ethics" debate was the magical GOP claim that Democrats ran on "eliminating pork".

They didn't. I went and looked, and the only pork-specific claim was that they'd get rid of anonymous earmarks and force the requesting Congressmen on record. And when one of the Democratic Committee chairs tried to avoid that, the Democratic leadership twisted his arm until he found a way to do it.

They never ran on "eliminating pork". I believe the GOP did in 1993. Nonetheless, I keep seeing "This doesn't eliminate pork, the Democrat's claims of ethical reforms are shams" keeps floating up.

I'm not sure where the talking point started. The Democrats proposed ethical reforms were spelled out quite clearly before the elections, and they appear to be in various stages of implementing all of them.

No pork claims to be found, although it's nice to note the Democrats have reduced it in general.

Then again -- pork is generally just Congressionally-specified spending of already allocated funds. It's generally not "extra money". As an example -- Congress allocates, say, 25 billion in roads funds for the next fiscal year, allocated by states and districts according to whatever formula. Senator Whosit of New Hampshire, whose state is getting 650 million of that fund, then earmarks 25 million of it for a specific project (The Whosit Interchange in Whositville), rather than allowing the state transportation agency to determine where that 25 million goes.
9.10.2007 10:16pm
Deoxy (mail):
Many people have said, about this Congress, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

I would add on the nd of that, "only better at it."

Bend over, America, and take the [self-censored] you voted for yourselves. :-(

What I wouldn't give for two strong and different-from-each-other parties instead of two branches of the Large-Government-Solves-All-of-Our-Problems Party ("Our" meaning "Congressmen", not the American people).
9.11.2007 5:49pm