January 19, 2007


Senate Passes Ethics Package: Parties Reach Hard-Fought Deal On Lobbying and Other Reforms (Jonathan Weisman and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, 1/19/07, Washington Post)

The measure appeared dead Wednesday night after Republicans refused to allow passage without a vote on an unrelated amendment that would hand the president virtual line-item veto authority. For nearly two days, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) -- who jealously guards the Senate's prerogatives on spending matters -- single-handedly blocked efforts to come to an accord on that line-item veto vote.

Democrats and government watchdog groups angrily pointed their fingers at the Republicans, charging that their demand for a vote on such an extraneous provision was simply an indirect way to kill popular legislation they dared not vote against.

But Reid found a path around Byrd, offering Republicans a chance next week to add the spending control measure to a bill to raise the minimum wage if they can find the votes. That broke the logjam, and the Senate then began debating several amendments to the bill, with an eye toward completing work late last night.

The bipartisan vote masked furious backroom lobbying on a measure too popular to kill in public. One provision that was stricken from the bill last night would have forced interest groups to disclose funds spent on grass-roots campaigns that implore the public to contact their representatives about legislation.

That provision -- to force the disclosure of pseudo-grass-roots campaigns -- had raised the ire of an odd coalition that included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Traditional Values Coalition, the American Conservative Union and the National Right to Life Committee, which worked hard to strip it out or even block the whole bill.

The Family Research Council met with lawmakers and their staffs, conducted interviews on radio talk shows, extensively e-mailed its members and notified other organizations, asking them to contact their senators to express opposition, according to Tony Perkins, the group's president. In the end, the Senate struck the measure, 55 to 43.

"This is an issue about free speech, not an issue that is either Republican or Democratic," said Marvin Johnson, legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, during the coalition's telephone news conference yesterday.

In another defeat for watchdog groups, the Senate overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to create an independent ethics counsel to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the Senate. The 71 to 27 vote was the second time that Congress has rejected the proposal in recent years.

Opposition from so many conservative activists had raised accusations from Democrats that Republicans were doing their bidding by blocking passage, but other opponents were less partisan. Lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, also talked to lawmakers about excluding from the measure's travel ban trips to Israel sponsored by the group's nonprofit foundation affiliate. The legislation, as written, would allow those trips to continue.

In what conceivable sense is it less partisan to be a member of the pro-Israel faction than the pro-life?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 19, 2007 8:23 AM
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