February 8, 2006

McCain, Obama settle feud over lobbying reform

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama
patched up a feud and pledged on Wednesday to work together to
enact new lobbying limits in the wake of the Jack Abramoff
influence-peddling scandal.

The Arizona Republican and the Illinois Democrat, who
exchanged sharply worded letters this week, told the Senate
Rules Committee they both want to reconcile competing measures
to reform the pervasive Washington practice of plying lawmakers
with donations and favors to try to influence legislation.

"Senator Obama and I are moving on and are continuing to
work together and I value his input," said McCain.

Obama put his arm around McCain for the benefit of
photographers, and called McCain his "pen pal."

McCain had accused Obama of "partisan posturing" after
Obama urged him to consider a reform bill backed by nearly all
Senate Democrats instead of an approach suggested by the Senate
Majority Leader, Tennessee Republican Bill Frist.

Among the proposed reforms is one that would limit the
ability of lawmakers to secretly insert spending measures at
the end of the legislative process.

Washington's lucrative lobbying industry has come under
scrutiny in recent months since the Abramoff scandal ensnared
several prominent Republicans, including former House Majority
Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

Abramoff pleaded guilty last month to plying unnamed
lawmakers with gifts and travel junkets to win influence for
his clients.


The House of Representatives has already changed its rules
to ban former members of Congress who become registered
lobbyists from its chamber and gym, though Democrats say that
will have little effect.

Both McCain's bill and the one backed by Obama would
require greater disclosure of lobbying activities and double
the "cooling off" period to two years before former members of
congress can lobby their colleagues.

The Democratic bill would also ban gifts from lobbyists and
prohibit privately funded travel by members of Congress.

Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold said lawmakers
should also be required to pay for their own meals.

"If you really want to have dinner with a lobbyist, no one
is saying that you can't. Just take out your credit card and
pay your own way," he said.

A ban on meals would be "going off the total deep end,"
countered Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott, who chairs
the Rules Committee. "We ought to ban gifts, but the meals
thing is going to far."

Several lawmakers said that the practice of inserting
last-minute "earmarks" into massive spending bills needs to be
brought under control. Documents show that Abramoff tried to
use this tactic to win favors for his Indian tribe clients.

Obama suggested that an independent committee made up of
retired judges and ex-lawmakers should ensure that the new
rules are enforced.

"We can pass all the new ethics in the world but if we
don't establish a body that can monitor and enforce those rules
it will be very easy to break them," he said.

Lott said his committee will vote on reform legislation in
the last week of February.