Senators will vote on final passage of a lobbying reform package today, after moving last night to drop two key provisions by cutting off debate on the matter.
To quickly wrap up work on the issue, Senators agreed to forgo votes on one provision that would crack down on lawmakers’ use of corporate jets and another that would severely curtail the practice of earmarks.
Falling by the wayside with those two proposals was one calling for the creation of an independent Office of Public Integrity to oversee compliance with new lobbying rules. Though highlighted by outside watchdogs as critical to the overall reform effort, two-thirds of Senators voted to reject the plan, with some criticizing the office as too weak and others calling it an affront to the Senate Ethics Committee’s authority.
Senators, however, added to the measure a ban on the longtime practice of allowing any lawmaker to stop legislation in its tracks with a secret hold.
Senators will work through about five to 10 remaining amendments to the bill this morning before deciding on the entire package, a senior GOP aide said. They have until the morning to submit germane amendments, at which point Senate leaders will meet to try to narrow the list, a leadership aide said.
Senators voted 81-16 to invoke cloture on the bill, after rejecting the independent ethics office in a 30-67 vote and adding the proposal banning secret holds by a margin of 84-13.
The Tuesday votes to limit the measure’s scope disappointed some of the chamber’s loudest advocates for reform.
“I have serious reservations about a bill” that doesn’t address travel, earmarks and enforcement, said Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), his party’s point man on the issue. “If those components are missing, I don’t think we’ve gotten at the fundamental problem.”
Obama said the Senate, which is under heavy pressure to take up the politically explosive issue of immigration reform, had moved too quickly on the lobbying rules overhaul.
Nevertheless, Senators supporting the travel and earmark provisions pledged to press ahead, planning to offer the proposals as amendments to future legislation.
“There will be an opportunity some other time to deal with it,” said Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) a leader of the GOP reform efforts and a co-sponsor of the corporate-jet amendment.
He said despite failing to attach his proposal, he was satisfied with the final product, calling it a “very strong effort.”
Although no deal on legislative vehicles for either amendment has been agreed to, a veteran GOP aide speculated that earmark reform could end up on a pending line-item veto bill, since attaching it to any other bill it would mean a 60-vote budget act point-of-order hurdle, as well as a cloture vote.
In the meantime, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a leading earmark critic, said that any unauthorized earmarks added to bills will be challenged on the floor. “We’re going to have some fun,” he said.
To clear the Senate today, the bill will need a simple majority vote, the threshold required for changing the chamber’s rules. If it passes, those changes — including the longstanding ban on secret holds — will become effective once the measure is signed into law.