How to jam Washington's revolving door

Commentator and Washington Post columnist Jeff Birnbaum

KAI RYSSDAL: Things don't look good for bipartisanship in the Senate. Members of the upper chamber have failed to agree on their very first piece of legislation. Ethics reform went down last night and was kicked around some more today.

Former lawmakers, though, and Capitol Hill staffers are having a fine old time.Lobbyists are snapping them up right and left. Mostly for their access to their former place of business.

Commentator Jeff Birnbaum says Washington needs to close that revolving door.


JEFF BIRNBAUM: There's not much new in the world of government reform. If you want to end the influence of big money, publicly finance election campaigns. If you want to reduce the power of lobbyists, ban their gifts and congressional junkets.

Ho Hum. We've heard it all before.

But the other day, during a regular Internet discussion I conduct on washingtonpost.com, I received a completely fresh suggestion from out of the blue. Well, actually it came from Indianapolis — or at least that was the city the correspondent listed online.

In any case, here it is: if you want to jam the revolving door between Congress and the outside world, and discourage K Street from hiring former congressmen as lobbyists, then deny a congressional pension to any former lawmaker who registers to lobby. Period.

Why allow our elected representatives to double dip? Indianapolis asked with flawless logic. A lawmaker can accept public funds in retirement via his pension. Or he can make a living extracting public funds for his clients as a lobbyist. But he shouldn't be allowed to do both.

Lawmakers' special access to their old colleagues allow them routinely to earn multiples of their congressional salaries as influence peddlers.Indianapolis believes — and who can disagree — that paying a federal pension to these same people is a miscarriage of justice.

In addition, taking away retirement benefits from former lawmakers would provide a disincentive for ex-congressmen to become lobbyists at all.

And wouldn't that be a lovely change? Maybe lawmakers would no longer strive to represent corporations and other interests at the public trough as their second careers. Certainly. the public would benefit.

As Congress considers lobby reform next year, I suggest it think about Indianapolis and ending the lobbyists' double dip.

RYSSDAL: Jeff Birnbaum is a columnist for The Washington Post.

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