Dem Reform Plan Not Much Better Than Republicans', Watchdog Says

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - Democrats on Wednesday declared an end to the "Republican culture of corruption," announcing their own "real reform" plan one day after Republicans announced theirs.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said the Democrat plan is about "real change and has real teeth." It's called the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.

Democrat leaders said their "aggressive reform package" would "reverse Republican excesses and restore the public trust."

But according to a taxpayer watchdog group, both parties have legitimate criticism to lob against each other's reform proposals.

"The Republicans are right in saying that both parties have complicity in the current ethical mess, where campaign contributions and other gifts are given to Members of Congress in exchange for their support for government largesse for the contributors," said John Berthoud, president of the National Taxpayers Union.

On the other hand, "The Democrats are right that the Republicans' package doesn't go nearly far enough," Berthoud said.

He noted that under the Republican plan, a Member of Congress convicted in of murder would still get a taxpayer-funded pension - as long as he didn't commit the crime "on the job."

And the Republican plan also fails to end the process of handing out favors to contributors and special interests through earmarks (pork barrel projects).

"But the Democrats' package is little better," Berthoud said. "Their lackluster reform package gives lie to their claim that they are not part of the Washington problem."

Budget reform needed'

Lobbying reform alone is not enough, said the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW), which has urged Congress to fix the "mangled and secretive budget process."

Tom Schatz, CCAGW president, said, "Bipartisan abuse of the budget process has led to record spending on pork barrel projects and handouts to special interests."

According to CCAGW, total federal spending has swelled 67 percent, from $1.5 trillion in fiscal 1995 to almost $2.5 trillion in fiscal 2005. The number of pork-barrel projects in the federal budget during that same period of time has skyrocketed from 1,349 to 13,997, an increase of 938 percent.

CCAGW supports a bill introduced by Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jeff Flake, both Arizona Republicans. The bill, the Obligation of Funds Transparency Act (S. 1495 and H.R. 1642, respectively), would make earmarks more visible and amendable before legislation is passed.

Morality and conscience

Democrats said their proposed legislation would:

-- end all gifts from lobbyists, including skyboxes at football games, steak dinners at expensive restaurants, and golf trips to the finest courses in the world.

-- close the revolving door between Congress and lobbying firms: Lawmakers and senior staff would have to wait two years instead of one between leaving their government jobs and returning to Capitol Hill to lobby.

-- toughen public disclosure of lobbyist activity: Lobbyists would have to disclose more information, including campaign contributions and client fees. Lobbyists would have to file disclosure reports more often; and they would have to certify that they have not violated rules. False certifications would be subject to criminal penalty.

-- end efforts like the "K Street Project," a Republican effort to put more Republicans in powerful lobbying positions.

-- prohibit cronyism in key appointments: Individuals appointed to positions involving public safety would have to have "proven credentials," such as training or expertise in areas relevant to the position. ("We can't afford another Mike Brown at FEMA," said a press release from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.)

-- establish zero tolerance for contract cheaters: (echoes of Halliburton and no-bid contracts on the Gulf Coast.)

The Democrats said this provision would restore accountability and openness in federal contracting by subjecting major contract actions to public disclosure and aggressive competition; criminally prosecute contractors who cheat taxpayers; impose penalties for wartime fraud in government contracting; mandate full disclosure of contract overcharges; create tough penalties for "improper" no-bid contracts; and close the revolving door between federal contract officials and private contractors.

Pelosi, writing for the DCCC, said the Democrats' proposed legislation shows "the kind of morality and conscience that drives our party."

Along with the DCCC, she is urging Americans to sign on as "co-sponsors" of the reform bill.

See Earlier Story:
Republicans Announce 'Reform' Proposals (18 Jan. 2006)

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