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Lobbying Overhaul Wins Approval in House

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Lobbying Overhaul Wins Approval in House


Lobbying Overhaul Wins Approval in House

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Today, the House overwhelmingly approved a sweeping package of changes to the way lawmakers deal with lobbyists. The measure includes new rules aimed at bringing some transparency to earmarks, the special interest spending projects for particular lawmakers' district. And it calls for new disclosures of campaign contributions lawmakers collect from lobbyists.

NPR's Brian Naylor has the story.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The 411-8 vote came as the newspapers scattered in the lobby outside the House chamber told of yet another member of Congress having his home searched by the FBI for evidence of possible wrongdoing. This time, it was the Senate senior Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska. So Democratic leaders were eager to put out word that they were ending business as usual in Washington. Here's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, Maryland; Speaker of the House): What we did today was momentous. This is historic. The level of scrutiny as to the link between lobbyist and legislation that we have broken is something that will make a difference in the lives of the American people.

NAYLOR: The legislation would make an array of changes, among them barring lawmakers from accepting free travel from corporations or lobbyists. Most of the changes were prompted by the scandals involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Congressman Randy Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney.

Ohio Democrat Zach Space spoke to reporters after today's vote.

Representative ZACH SPACE (Democrat, Ohio): Bob Ney was my predecessor. He now sits in prison. Bob Ney's story is one of utter betrayal, a man who was very popular in his district who got caught up with lobbyist who crossed the line, thus, betraying 630,000 people who trusted him.

NAYLOR: Many of the changes in the bill apply to earmarks, the special interest provisions lawmakers have been inserting into legislation in increasing numbers. The measure requires earmarks to be identified by sponsor and amount of spending and put on in the Internet 48 hours before a bill is voted on. It also says that when lawmakers take campaign donations that lobbyists have collected on their behalf - so-called bundling - that must be reported.

While the bill won overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, some Republicans, like Phil Gingrey of Georgia, were unenthusiastic.

Representative PHIL GINGREY (Republican, Georgia): This is a tremendous opportunity missed on behalf of the new majority. This bill just absolutely does not go far enough.

NAYLOR: Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois said one missed opportunity was that while the bill would deny congressional pensions to lawmakers convicted of some crimes, there were some glaring emissions.

Representative MARK KIRK (Republican, Illinois): I would simply say to the House that a member of Congress convicted of income tax evasion should not get a taxpayer-funded pension. But that reform was left out.

NAYLOR: Still, outside good government groups overwhelmingly praised the bill as a sea change from the way business is being done in Washington. The measure now moves to the Senate where a single Republican senator, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, blocked passage of an earlier reform bill claiming it was inadequate. Majority Leader Harry Reid hopes the size of the vote for the bill in the House today will influence the outcome in the Senate.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): But with that resounding vote out of the House, 411-8, I think people should be a little concerned about voting against it.

NAYLOR: The Senate vote is expected on Thursday.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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