Democrats tackle ethics first

Hillary Wicai Jan 3, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s Wednesday, January 3rd. That makes tomorrow January 4th. The day on which members of the 110th Congress will roll up their sleeves and get to work. Truth be told, though, much of the heavy lifting’s already been done.

Democrats spent most of the fall election campaign telling us what they’d do if they won. Today the incoming majority fleshed out item number one on its list. Ethics and lobbying reform. From Washington, Marketplace’s Hillary Wicai has the story.

HILLARY WICAI: The clock on the first hundred hours of a Democratic Congress is about to start ticking. They’ll begin by proposing changes to the House rules. The new ethics rules would prohibit House lawmakers from accepting gifts, meals or travel paid for by lobbyists or any organization that employs lobbyists. Massachusetts Congressman Marty Meehan has pushed a long time for such a change.

MARTY MEEHAN: No more lobbyists planning junkets and golf tournaments. None of it. It’s over. This is a significant package, as I say the most significant in history.

The new rules would also require lawmakers to show how they’ll pay for tax cuts or new spending, a rule called pay as you go. Another change to limit spending: earmarks would have to be disclosed. Those are the pet projects often tacked onto budget bills, commonly known as pork. Steve Ellis with Taxpayers for Common Sense says the Democrats are on the right track because they’ve expanded the definition of an earmark.

STEVE ELLIS: Their definition seems broad enough that it’s going to capture the wide range of earmarks that are out there and will increase the level of transparency by requiring members to stand by their earmark.

Up next: House Democrats are expected to implement more of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations next week. A hike in the federal minimum wage could come after that.

And just how are they going to get all of that done? New House rule: Congress will work five days a week.

In Washington, I’m Hillary Wicai for Marketplace.

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