The Senate passed the ethics bill 83-14 last night, sending it to President Bush’s desk for his signature, completing the end run around Sen. Jim DeMint.
Bush has indicated he might veto it. This makes little sense for two reasons. First, the bills passed with overwhelming majorities (the House vote was 411-8), so a veto would be symbolic, not substantive. Second, even if Bush thinks the bill is worthless, it only affects Congress and candidates (well, and executive branch officials who want to become lobbyists but don’t want to have to wait two years to do so). So why does he care?
Never mind that his specific comments echo the “perfect or nothing” attitude of other critics, who attack the bill because it is weaker than the initial Senate version passed in January. Yes, it is; but it is also an improvement over the current rules. Should we throw out those improvements simply because they do not go far enough? Or should we instead view this bill as one step on a longer road?
But the funniest quote is from Mitch McConnell:
“This bill isn’t nearly as tough as it would have been on earmarks if Republicans had been involved in writing it,” McConnell said.
Uh-huh. Except that when Republicans were in power, they passed nothing. And while one might be tempted to blame Democrats for blocking those efforts, the fact is that Republican opposition was very, very steep as well. And Democratic actions aside, the proposed bill (HR 4975 of the 109th Congress) was weaker than the current bill.
1. The ethics rules would only apply to the 11 big spending bills, and they would have sunsetted at the end of the year.
2. Instead of banning gifts from lobbyists, it simply required that such gifts be reported.
3. It didn’t increase the wait time before members could become lobbyists.
4. It allowed members to accept privately funded travel.
5. Earmarks needed only be identified, including the sponsoring Congressmember. It didn’t include, for instance, the requirement that the list be available 48 hours before the bill is voted on, or that members certify they have no financial interest in the earmark.
So claiming Republicans would have done it better rings just a little hollow.
McConnell does, however, get it right in the end:
“But weighing the good and the bad, many provisions are stronger than current law.”
There are plenty of legitimate veto targets out there, notably the bloated water bill — which, indeed, Bush has promised to veto. But the ethics bill isn’t one of them.