As the Senate Rules and Administration Committee prepares to mark up a lobbying and ethics reform bill today that would increase transparency on Member trips, gifts and spending earmarks, House GOP leaders are considering endorsing a one-year moratorium on privately funded travel.
The House travel proposal is still largely unformed, but aides in three different offices involved in the ongoing crafting of the GOP’s lobbying and ethics package said that the possibility of implementing a moratorium is receiving serious consideration and will be discussed further at leadership meetings this week.
Crucially, the idea of a moratorium has the support of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who has called for a complete travel ban.
“The Speaker has said all along that he believes that there should be a ban on private travel if the House ethics committee cannot come up with a pre-approval process for trips,” said Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean. “Having a moratorium until a [pre-approval] system is put in place achieves that end, so we would be in favor of it.”
Instituting a temporary ban on trips could help House Republicans find their way out of their current predicament. With the party besieged by bad publicity over the Jack Abramoff scandal and other corruption stories, Hastert proposed a complete ban on private travel for lawmakers and staff in January.
But that idea has since run into vocal opposition from at least some corners of the Republican Conference, with many lawmakers complaining at the House GOP retreat and other gatherings that a complete ban would be a mistake. Some Members have called for a travel ban with exceptions carved out for some sponsoring organizations. Others have called for simply introducing greater transparency into the process.
As a result, Republican leaders face two unpalatable choices: Implement a complete ban and face the opposition of their own members, or enact a weaker reform plan and invite criticism from Democrats and the media.
Republican aides involved in crafting the reform package said they hoped the moratorium could help defuse the issue for the time being, with the understanding that the House will revisit the issue in January when it passes a rules package for the 110th Congress.
The House’s overall effort on lobbying and ethics reform is being spearheaded by Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.), whose panel will hold an original jurisdiction hearing Thursday on “Lobbying Reform: Accountability through Transparency.”
Though the full agenda for that hearing
has not been released, Rules spokeswoman Jo Maney said the concept of a travel moratorium could be part of the discussion.
“We’re looking at various options and that’s one of them,” Maney said.
Democrats, for their part, dismissed the idea of a moratorium as too weak.
“The issue is much bigger than just travel. It’s the Republicans’ systemic culture of corruption,” said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Republicans still have not faced the fact that they need to kill the K Street Project, ban gifts and address travel.”
On the Senate side, work toward a legislative package is considerably further along. The Rules and Administration Committee meets today to mark up a measure by Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) that focuses on boosting transparency, according to a draft obtained by Roll Call.
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