Friday, January 20, 2006

From the Speaker

Just a quick post this morning, then I'm off to Annapolis for the day.

This is from the latest post on Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert's blog.

Hello everyone. I hope all my friends out in blogosphere had a safe and happy holiday. It was good to have some time with my family, but now we’re back to business and getting ready for this second half of the legislative session.


I still have to giggle a little when 'Denny' uses the word "blogosphere." It's not something that many old people say.

I’ve been reading the headlines and watching everything going on, and I’m concerned. I used to teach government classes to high school students and I know that confidence in the integrity of our government is essential to our democratic system. So it makes me both angry and sad when a Member of Congress or former staffers betray that trust. Painful as it is, I’m glad that the judicial process is bringing people to justice. I said in my press conference this week what I deeply believe: It’s not acceptable for anyone to break the rules of the House or to break the law. And if anyone has done this, we need to hold them accountable.



Yes, if they're guilty, punish them to the fullest extent of the law.

I’ve asked David Dreier, the Chairman of the House Rules Committee, to lead the lobbying reform effort in the House. He has been reaching out to Senator McCain and other reform leaders that have been working on this issue. I was encouraged when Senator McCain responded favorably to the thoughts I expressed in my press conference on Tuesday. Senator McCain seemed hopeful, as am I, that we can finally get something enacted into law.


Damnit, 'Denny', you're a blogger now. We don't like McCain. His stupid collaboration with Feingold tries to tell us what to do, strictly limits speech on the internet 60 days before an election, and strongly favors the old school media that doesn't play nicely with conservatives (or tell the truth, for that matter). We certainly don't want McCain anywhere near lobbying reform. Get Shadegg to do it... it'd be a nice way to break im in as Majority Leader (hint, hint).

Gotta go, more later.

Update: Ok, I'm back now. Here is more from Speaker Hastert's blog post, focused on his goals for lobbying reform. They sound pretty good, though I would still prefer McCain not be in charge of it.

As Speaker I believe I need to do everything I can to help rebuild public trust. So I’ve been working hard on developing a plan for lobbying reform.

I’ve asked David Dreier, the Chairman of the House Rules Committee, to lead the lobbying reform effort in the House. He has been reaching out to Senator McCain and other reform leaders that have been working on this issue. I was encouraged when Senator McCain responded favorably to the thoughts I expressed in my press conference on Tuesday. Senator McCain seemed hopeful, as am I, that we can finally get something enacted into law.

Chairman Dreier has also been reaching out to our Democratic colleagues because this is one issue where we need to come together. I was discouraged when the Democratic Leader issued a very negative statement following our press conference Tuesday. I guess that’s politics, especially in an election year, but I had hoped for the sake of the institution we could work together. But I felt better afterwards when I saw that she had essentially adopted all of our ideas when she rolled out her plan. So I guess that is progress. I’m going to continue to urge all my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, to do the right thing on this issue. We really need to come together. I know that some feel that some of this reform is overkill and all we need to do is punish those who broke the rules. But I think we need to go further if we want, as an institution, to regain the trust of the American people.

And that starts with changing the rules so that there isn’t any doubt about what’s acceptable and what’s not.

At the press conference Tuesday, David and I talked about the plan we’re introducing when the House returns. I want to share a little of it with all of you.

Let me point out that we plan to start work on this the first day that lawmakers are back – February 1st. And the first thing we’re going to do is end the access that former Members of the House who have become lobbyists have to the floor, the gym and other locations. Even under current rules no former member is supposed to lobby on the House Floor, but I think we need to go a step further and not have them on the floor at all so there isn’t even the appearance of impropriety. I also hope we can very quickly pass legislation to take away the government pension from anyone who is convicted of a felony that is related to the performance of their duties as a Member of Congress.

There are some other reforms that I intend to introduce the first day we are back and hopefully get through hearings, passage in the House and Senate and onto the President’s desk before the end of March. That’s a quick pace for legislative action but I think we need to do it – and I think we can and still have time to get it right.

First, we want to ban privately sponsored travel. I know some fact-finding trips, giving speeches to organizations and participating in conferences outside of Washington is important, but the fact of the matter is private travel has been abused by some. Now, we just need to put an end to it.

The second thing we want to do is tighten the gift rules. Like I said at the press conference, Congressmen should still be able to accept a ball cap or a t-shirt from the proud students at a middle school in their districts. But they don’t need lunch or dinner on a lobbyist’s dime.

We also want to increase the reporting requirements for lobbyists. Most of them do a good job, representing legitimate interests -- interests many of you may be a part of, whether unions or industries or environmental groups. As I used to teach my High School students, the Constitution protects the rights of all Americans to petition their government whether through a letter or an email or through the representation of someone they have hired to represent their group. But the system is more accountable when all this lobbying is done in the bright light of disclosure.

We also need to reform what are called “earmarks.” This is where Representatives or Senators tell the bureaucracy that certain funds should go to specific projects. In many instances I think your elected representatives know more than the Washington bureaucracy about what the priorities in their district or state should be. And unlike the bureaucracy they are accountable for what they have earmarked at election time. But I am interested in the ideas that some of my colleagues are putting forward to make sure that this is a much more open and transparent process where those who suggest an earmark are accountable to the public for the merit of the projects being funded.

And we want to tackle the issue of the 527 groups. A lot of these groups came out last year. They basically raise tons of money from anonymous donors and then use it to run distorted campaign ads. We saw a lot of them in the weeks before the hearings for Judge Alito, and we saw a lot of them crop up in the last election. In my opinion they have made our election more nasty and personal and less about issues. And the 527 groups are not accountable because they use a loophole to keep us from knowing who is donating the unlimited and unregulated money to put on these ads. Well, I for one intend to work very hard with John McCain and others to reform the way these 527 groups are run

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