What Republican Reform Actually Means
by Jonathan Singer, Sat Feb 18, 2006 at 06:54:52 PM EST
Earlier this month, House Republicans held an election to select a new caucus leader. Beset by scandals ranging from the conviction of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham to the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to the exposure of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's shady influence-peddling practices, House Republicans elected an "outsider" and "reformer" -- John Boehner -- rather than the acting Majority Leader, Roy Blunt, who had served as DeLay's number one deputy. At least it appeared to the Washington press corps that the House GOP had voted for reform.
At the time of the leadership election, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier was drawing up a new set of tougher regulations relating to lobbying -- at least in terms of rhetoric -- at the behest of House Speaker Denny Hastert. But The Washington Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum, who has been covering lobbying and business for decades, writes in Sunday's paper that even the rather toothless reforms championed by Dreier and Hastert appear to be going by the wayside as a result of John Boehner's election as Majority Leader.
Their progress was slowed by the election two weeks ago of a new majority leader, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has a different notion of what "reform" should entail and who challenged parts of Hastert's plan.
In mid-January, Hastert proposed broad new restrictions on lobbying, including a ban on privately funded travel for lawmakers and tight limits on meals and other gifts.
But Boehner and many rank-and-file Republicans objected to his recommendations and have said they would prefer beefing up disclosure of lobbyists' activities rather than imposing new restrictions. [emphasis added]
Looking at this article, two separate storylines emerge. The meme pushed by Republicans, which has largely been swallowed by the Beltway press and punditry, states that Republicans repudiated their past leadership by electing new leadership free of the scandal that plagued the last Majority Leader (even if this new leader had been surrounded by similar scandals in the past). The second, more correct meme, which has been largely overlooked by the press, is that the Republican caucus opted for the Majority Leader candidate who cared the least about lobbying reform and was most strongly in favor of maintaining the status quo. While Roy Blunt was tied to Jack Abramoff, at least he was, in an attempt to reframe his image, in favor of some steps to clean up Washington. However, Boehner, who was not as closely tied to Abramoff, felt free to eschew reform as the institutional press had largely forgotten his many improper ties to lobbyists in the past.
When confronted with the choice of a candidate who, while surrounded by scandal, was willing to feign concern about illicit lobbying practices, and a candidate who openly stated that no changes needed to be made on the Congressional ethics front, House Republicans opted for the latter. And if House Republicans can't even choose a veneer of reform over no reform at all, then they are clearly unconcerned that their close ties to lobbyists -- some corrupt, many not -- are hurting America. Unfortunately for the Republicans, most Americans disagree with this sentiment.