Rep. Dreier on GOP Lobbying Proposals
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Representative David Dreier of California is in charge of steering Republican plans for lobbying reforms. Congressman Dreier joins us from our studios in Los Angeles. He is chairman of the House Rules Committee. Thanks for being with us.
Representative DAVID DREIER (Republican, California): Having just left Washington, so I'm home now and happy to be here, Melissa. Thanks.
BLOCK: Congressman, there are metaphors flying. I heard the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid today say that having Republicans reform lobbying is like putting Brownie, meaning Mike Brown, back in charge of FEMA. I think he also said it's like asking John Gotti to do what he can to clean up organized crime. What do you say to that?
Representative DREIER: So we've been likened to the mob. We've been likened to just about everything else that's horrible. Well, frankly, come up with some creative, new ideas is my response. The Republican party has been and continues to be the party of reform. We are very proud of the way we've been able to bring about a greater degree of transparency, deliberation and accountability to this institution. And I think more needs to be done. Frankly, when we're done with these reforms, the order of the day will be more reforms.
BLOCK: One of the things that's becoming a bone of some contention is the idea that there should be a ban on travel for congressmen that's paid for by private entities, whether it's interest groups or PACs, whatever. Some people are saying, look, there is a valuable purpose to these trips. They may look like junkets, but there's actual business being done. Why ban it altogether?
Representative DREIER: Melissa, I'm a very strong proponent of congressional travel. I believe that members should not simply be in Washington, D.C. or their states or congressional districts. But it's very clear that there has been tremendous abuse of privately funded travel. And so privately funded travel is something that we've proposed banning because of the problems that we've seen. Frankly, this is not a partisan issue at all. I mean, we've seen problems on both sides.
BLOCK: You've also, though, got your fellow Republican congressman, John Shadegg of Arizona, saying this, even if you ban travel that's paid for by these private groups, it doesn't get to the root problem, which is earmarking all these pork projects that are stuck onto bills that are paid for by lobbyists and that get into legislation. What do you do about that?
Representative DREIER: Well, at our news conference yesterday I said earmarking reform is a very high priority. We want to bring an end to so-called pork barrel spending. We want to do everything that we can, again, to increase transparency and accountability. And I believe that we can reform the earmark process. It's important to note that we've had a $3 billion reduction under the leadership of Congressman Jerry Lewis of the earmarking process just within the past year. And so we're on a path towards reducing the number of so-called earmarks.
BLOCK: There's a story in The Washington Post today that says, look, there's a really big loophole in all this talk about lobbying reform because, even if you ban these trips paid by outside groups, if it turns out that those can be considered a fundraising event, in other words, if a check is exchanged, then it's all okay. Is that a problem?
Representative DREIER: Well, obviously, people hold campaign events. If a candidate for Congress is holding a campaign event and it's a lunch or a dinner, it would seem to me that it'd be natural for that person to maybe have a sandwich or whatever is taking place at that event. So, but we're willing to look at any issue that comes forward as it relates to this. I mean, obviously, you know, we're - our goal is to try and close loopholes, not open them.
BLOCK: Congressman, I wonder if you might understand frustration around the country that there seems to be this call for reform, this sudden interest in reforming lobbying only after some really big scandals have hit Washington. Why has it taken so long?
Representative DREIER: You know, I would say that it's not taken long. If you go back to the early 1990s, I had the privilege of co-chairing the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress. And at that time we proposed a wide range of reforms. I was in the minority, and the then speaker of the house did not accept any of the reforms that we proposed. We won the majority and we implemented many of them. So reform has been a high priority, the top of our list, for a long period of time, since I was in the minority. We've been in the majority for a decade, and we're continuing to pursue it. And, as I said, when we're done with this reform, the priority will be more reform.
BLOCK: Congressman Dreier, thanks very much.
Representative DREIER: Thanks very much, Melissa.
BLOCK: Congressman David Dreier of California is chairman of the House Rules Committee.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.