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Move the reform; Has Congress forgotten the Abramoff scandal?


After a promising start toward curbing the lobbying abuses exposed by the Jack Abramoff scandal, Congress' enthusiasm for reform seems to be waning. Failure to act would deal yet another blow to good government - and to the standing of a legislative body whose public approval ratings have sunk to historic lows.

The proposed rules changes are designed to ease the corrupting influence of the thousands of lobbyists who swarm the Capitol. In a relationship that often has the appearance of systematic influence-buying, the K Street crowd lavishes millions of dollars worth of dinners, trips and other goodies on lawmakers, hoping the recipients will slip their employers' pet projects, subsidies or regulatory exemptions as "earmarks" into appropriations bills. Although lawmakers bristle at suggestions that the largess affects their decisions, lobbyists and the interests that employ them clearly view it as a small investment can yield big dividends.

The House and Senate both have passed substantial reforms. However, procedural roadblocks have prevented the bills from going to a conference committee.

At issue are provisions that would hold members accountable for the "earmarks" for special projects they add to spending bills. Used responsibly, earmarks help counteract imbalances of power in Congress. However, earmarks are vulnerable to abuse when lawmakers add them anonymously, escaping accountability to their colleagues or constituents.

Proposed changes would prohibit anonymous earmarks, require advance publication and allow floor debate of all earmarks and disallow addition of earmarks after bills go to the Senate-House conference. As one House member put it, that would be "a huge victory for all who believe sunshine is the best disinfectant."

No legislation is likely to eliminate the unwholesome relationship between some lobbyists and complaisant lawmakers, but exposing earmarks to the light of day would be a good start.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 12, 2007
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