Lobbying and Lott

Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr reflects on the decision of Trent Lott (R-MS) to leave his post before his term as Senate minority whip expires, and how lobbying is a much more lucrative occupation than law-making.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

While all those folks are trying to get in power, some of the people in power are getting out for a reason.

Here is NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

DANIEL SCHORR: First, you have to know - if don't already - that lobbying pays a lot better than legislating. So that may help you to understand a rush to the revolving door in Congress.

So far, six senators and 22 representatives have announced that they are bowing out. The latest is Mississippi's Republican Senator Trent Lott. He's abrupt resignation seemed a more surprising since he has fought his way back to Republican whip in the Senate after being bounced as a majority leader because of remarks perceived as racist at a birthday party for Strom Thurmond.

Why would Trent not resign with more than five years left in his term? Actually he told a news conference he'd been planning to retire in 2006, but he felt he had to stay because of the suffering of his constituents on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

Did new lobbying restrictions play any part? It didn't have a big role, he said. What's that about? Well, in one of the suggestions towards ethics enforcement, Congress voted to lengthen the cooling off period before a former member can engage in lobbying from one to two years. That regulation goes into effect on January 1st.

Senator Lott said he had learned from colleagues the lot of work could be designated as consulting rather than direct lobbying. Maybe, but Senator Lott was apparently not convinced that this creative interpretation of lobbying would hold up. And so to stand in the safe side, it seems wise to resign before the end of the year and take advantage of the shorter cooling off period.

Senator Lott's son, Chester, is a lobbyist and he says his father will probably make a final decision on his future plans over the Christmas holiday. Oh yes, Governor Haley Barbour now has the task of appointing a senator to serve out Lott's unexpired term. That would probably have been Representative Chip Pickering, but Pickering is retiring from Congress himself.

Will the last legislator to go through this revolving door of Congress please turn out the lights?

This is Daniel Schorr.

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