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Majority Eyes Earmark Ban

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Rep. Sander Levin won the Ways and Means gavel after embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel stepped aside.

But the party is newly sensitized to the political threat of letting the GOP brand it as entitled and out of touch — an awareness on display as Democrats fumbled Rangel’s succession on Ways and Means last week. After Rangel stepped aside Wednesday, the gavel passed to the panel’s second-in-line, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), a veteran with a long history of off-color remarks and ethics troubles of his own. But committee members balked at Stark’s promotion and met for hours on Wednesday to consider how to hand the chairmanship to a less controversial figure.

During an afternoon meeting that day, Becerra and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), both members of leadership, made the case to Stark that his record would make him an inviting target for Republicans and a distraction for politically endangered Democrats, sources familiar with the session said. Committee members settled on third-ranking panel member Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), who assumed the position Thursday.

Meanwhile, the newest House Democrats, many of whom were elected on promises to change the way Washington does business, are pushing their own proposals for ethics and process reforms.

As of Friday morning, freshman Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) had rounded up 22 co-sponsors for a bill that would cut lawmakers’ pay by 5 percent starting next year. (She noted in an interview that she is already voluntarily giving back that amount of her pay). And members of the freshman class are set to meet this week to finalize a package of reforms they have been working on for months.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), an organizer of the effort, said they include banning campaign contributions from directors and managers of earmark recipients, forbidding lawmakers from making stock trades based on insider knowledge of legislation, and overhauling the per diem system lawmakers use on overseas trips that frequently leaves them with taxpayer dollars in their pockets.

“We came in at a time when we realized the American people are frustrated and angry,” Kirkpatrick said. “We know we’re being held to a higher standard.”

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