Sen. Lieberman on Lobbying Reform, Katrina
CHADWICK: Senator Lieberman, I want to ask you about your trip to Mississippi yesterday. But maybe we could begin with lobbying reform. This is your day to get up and say what you think the Congress should do. What are you going to say?
Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): Well, in a sense it began a couple of weeks ago when I announced that I would be co-sponsoring John McCain's lobbying reform bill, which grew out of the excellent hearings that John did on the Abramoff scandal.
And this is a full disclosure bill. It requires the kind of disclosure that if Abramoff had been forced to do, he might well have been indicted in the Court of Public Opinion before he was indicted in a court of law and pled guilty. Today, the Democratic Party, democratic senators, going to be proud to be stating with them, will be announcing a lobbying reform on this government, a package of proposals, many of which will be very similar to the bill I'm co-sponsoring with John McCain.
There'll be a few addition, in addition to disclosure, that democratic members of Congress will be banning all gifts from lobbyists to members of Congress, and prohibiting all lobbyists or lobbyist-associated financing of travel by members of Congress.
So, there's actually, for the moment, what might be called a virtuous cycle of reaction to the Abramoff scandal going on now in which each of the political parties in Congress are putting forward tough proposals, reform proposals.
CHADWICK: Senator, are you saying that if a group of Hartford Insurance companies would like to invite members of the Senate Commerce Committee up to Hartford to talk about what those insurance companies would like, that they would not be able to do that?
Sen. LIEBERMAN: That's an interesting question. Under the bill that John McCain and I are sponsoring, that could happen, but there'd have to be full disclosure, which means it would be filed in a public statement available to the public record, including a lot of details that now are not filed. How much money was spent on the trip, what kind of entertainment or food was provided, what was its value. Because the truth is that, trips like that are, to any number of other places in the country, are sometimes helpful to the member of Congress to learn to get their job done.
Chadwick: Yesterday, you were on a trip to Mississippi. This was to kind of review how things were going in Hurricane Katrina recovery, specifically along the gulf coast of Mississippi, how did it look to you, sir?
Sen. LIEBERMAN: Well, I must tell you that four month ago, a few weeks after the Katrina Hurricane, I went there with colleagues, including Senator Collins, who is the Chair of our Committee. And, um, I think we were all stunned and disappointed four months later, to find that, though some debris had been picked up, the devastation along the gulf coast of Mississippi, and in New Orleans, which we also visited yesterday, is really profound, and you've got to ask why.
Part of it is just, it's a reminder, a painful reminder that, uh, this Hurricane Katrina was an unprecedented storm, and that it really, has created more of a humanitarian crisis than I think any event in American History, since the Great Depression, and it's not going to be solved and fixed quickly.
The other problem, and this may be part of the reason why we didn't see as much progress as we hoped for, there are a lot of complaints on the ground in Mississippi and in Louisiana about red tape and slowness of response of federal agencies, including FEMA, that are supposed to be there to help.
CHADWICK: Senator, a last question, you were in New Orleans. There's some sort of dispute going on about rebuilding the levies to protect the city. The administration wants to go to a level that would protect the city from a category three hurricane, local officials want a category five hurricane, what are the merits on either side and where do you stand on this?
Sen. LIEBERMAN: Well, there's no question that everybody agrees on the short-term goal. And the short-term goal, which is being implemented now, is by June, that the levies be restored to the category three strength that they were before Katrina. But frankly, stronger than they were, because I believe, from what I know that, some of the levies failed even before the storm hit category three. The question is, do you go beyond that and I think we do have to go beyond that in two ways.
I do think we've got to go to category five for the levies, secondly, and this was a very compelling part of what we heard and saw yesterday, we've got to do more to go, in a sense, beyond category five, beyond the levies.
To go out on the coast and restore some of the hundreds, thousands of acres of marshland that have been lost in the advance of development and just nature, because that marshland provides a natural protector from hurricanes like Katrina. Frankly, if the coast of Louisiana had been as it was, oh, a century ago, I don't believe that Hurricane Katrina would have hit New Orleans with as much force as it actually did.
CHADWICK: Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Senator thank you for joining us on DAY TO DAY.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: Thank you very much, good to be with you.
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