House and Senate Democrats make unlikely reformers. On the House side, important senior Dems are plagued by ethical violations, and in some cases, current investigations. A list of such Dems would include, but not be limited to, John Murtha, John Conyers, Alcee Hastings, William Jefferson, Allen Mollohan, and Bennie Thompson.
Even so, and to her credit, Speaker Pelosi was able to push through strong earmark reform legislation last week. Too strong, in fact, for her counterparts in the Senate Democratic leadership. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Majority Whip Dick Durbin rejected Pelosi’s approach and pushed for watered down legislation that defined earmarks much more narrowly, thus undermining real reform. When Republican Senator Jim DeMint pushed instead for Pelosi’s version, Reid and Durbin were not amused and, along with Ted Kennedy, maneuvered to block DeMint’s efforts. This was not surprising since, as Robert Novak notes, Reid’s four sons and his daughter’s husband all have been lawyers or lobbyists for special interests and have “taken advantage of their close proximity to a powerful senator.”
When a few Democratic members balked (the list includes Russ Feingold, Barack Obama, Jon Tester, and James Webb) their slick leaders had to back down. But the episode shows that the Senate Dems intend to continue with business as usual once the first “100 hours” expire and the caravan moves on.
Before that happens, though, they will have to vote on a proposal to take family members out of the earmark game. As Novak explains, Sen. Tom Coburn is sponsoring what has become known as the “Reid amendment,” which would prohibit senators from requesting earmarks that financially benefit a senator, an immediate family member of a senator or a family member of a senator’s staffer. It will be interesting to see how the “Reid amendment” goes down with the Dems.
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