Friday, January 19, 2007

Democratic Congress Moves Legislation on Ethics And Oil Subsidies

Democrats have already passed more meaningful legislation in the first two weeks of the new Congress than the Republicans managed to work through in the last two years and yesterday's votes in the House and the Senate kept that ball rolling.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) made good on his promise and, making Senate ethics reform the top item on his agenda, pushed through extensive ethics and lobbying reform legislation on Thursday. This followed Republicans trying to filibuster the bill on Wednesday, before reaching an agreement -- on the line-item veto for George W. Bush, a deal with which I strongly disagree -- and the legislation passed by an overwhelming 96-2 vote.

The bill mandates that Senators give up free travel and other gifts from lobbyists, pay more for travel on corporate jets and make themselves more accountable for the pet projects they insert into bills.

Reid called the ethics reform "the most significant legislation in ethics and lobbying reform we've had in the history of this country."

The new ethics and lobbying legislation will:
  • Bar lawmakers from accepting gifts and travel paid for by lobbyists.
  • Extend from one to two years the time a former member must wait before he can engage in lobbying activities.
  • Deny pensions to lawmakers convicted of serious crimes.
  • Require more reporting by lobbyists on their activities.
  • Require public disclosure of those home-state projects.
  • Require senators hitching rides on private jets to pay full charter rates rather than the current practice of paying the far cheaper equivalent of a first class ticket.
  • Require reporting by lobbyists who obtain small donations from clients and then "bundle" them into larger contributions to politicians.
  • Prevent spouses of sitting members from lobbying.
“Today’s Senate passage of groundbreaking ethics and lobbying reforms was a resounding victory," said Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI). "In November, the American people demanded real change, and the Senate has responded with a strong bill that will bring an end to the status quo.”

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) continued the push on her 100-hour agenda by passing legislation that rolls back government subsidies to the GOP's friends in the oil industry.

Saying that the bill "starts to move our nation in a new direction" on energy policy, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that the free ride is over for the big oil companies.

"The oil industry doesn't need the taxpayers' help," said Hoyer. "There is not an American that goes to a gas pump that doesn't know that,"

This legislation follows a year in which Americans paid $3.00 per gallon at the pump and watched the big oil companies being subsidized by their tax dollars raking in record profits.

The bill will take away almost $6 billion in oil-industry tax breaks granted under the Republican Congress -- big surprise there, right? -- impose a conservation fee on some oil and gas taken from the Gulf of Mexico and attempt to recover royalties lost to the federal government because of an Interior Department error in leases issued in the late 1990s.

Democrats say that the legislation will result in an additional $15 billion in tax revenue which will be primarily directed toward promoting renewable fuels such as solar and wind power, alternative fuels including ethanol and biodiesel and incentives for conservation.

In an odd bit of theater that should also show Speaker Pelosi how serious the GOP leadership is about behaving in a more bipartisan manner, Republican Representative Don Young of Alaska tried a little red-baiting, wearing a bright red shirt to the House floor and saying "It's the color of this bill we're debating — Communist red." Young added that the oil bill "amounts to a taking of private property" by forcing oil companies to renegotiate leases they view as valid contracts.

And that antic pretty much puts the entire week in context: Democrats doing the work expected by the American people and Republicans doing stupid stuff to either scare people or appease their big-money donors.

I guess it's true that the more things change, the more they remain the same.