Thursday, January 18, 2007

Senate Republicans vote against Ethics, lobbying reform bill

Ethics, lobbying reform bill stalls in U.S. Senate
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two weeks after the U.S. Senate convened with Democrats and Republicans vowing to work together for the public good, they bitterly split on Wednesday over how to clean up the scandal-rocked U.S. Congress.

The Democratic-led Senate failed to end a Republican procedural roadblock that has stalled a bipartisan bill to revamp the Senate's ethics and lobbying rules.

On a 51-46 vote, the Senate fell 14 short of the 65 votes needed to end more than a week of debate and move toward a vote on passage of the sweeping measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he would try again on Thursday to muster the two-thirds majority vote needed to end debate on proposed rules changes.

Reid said if Democrats again fell short, he would decide what to do next. He could turn to other legislation. "There are a number of alternatives," Reid told colleagues.

A Reid spokesman said if Republicans again prevail in preventing a vote on passage, they will have to spend the next two years "defending why they voted against ethics reform."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said "I still hope we can finish this bill. We are not that far away from completion."

Democrats won control of Congress from President George W. Bush's Republicans in the November elections, promising to end "a culture of corruption" on Capitol Hill marked in recent years by influence-peddling scandals.

Senate Democrats and Republicans promised bipartisanship when the new Congress convened on January 4. But that spirit turned into partisan finger-pointing over who knew best how to proceed with the bill to increase accountability and public disclosure in the legislative process.

Republicans demanded that before the Senate vote on the reform measure, it consider a proposed amendment to permit a "line item veto," which would allow a president to single out specific spending or tax provisions in bills approved by Congress and ask that lawmakers go back and delete them.

Congress would then have the opportunity to override him.

Reid opposed such a vote, and along with fellow Democrats accused Republicans of trying to kill the overall bill.

"Attaching an unrelated measure to this bipartisan bill is an obvious attempt to derail passage of the strongest ethics reform legislation" in three decades, Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Barack Obama of Illinois said in a statement.

Republicans denied trying to kill the bill. But they insisted the proposed amendment be considered promptly.

The stalled measure would generally ban gifts and trips from lobbyists, double to two years a ban on lobbying by former lawmakers and require disclosure of any negotiations by members for a job in the private sector.

In addition, it would require public disclosure of the sponsors of pet projects, such as local roads and bridges, often slipped into giant spending bills.