Dems Vow to Restore Integrity, Fiscal Responsibility

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

(Editor's note: During her "first 100 hours" as speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Nancy Pelosi has identified seven key agenda items, one of which is to "break the link between lobbyists and legislation" and enact pay-as-you-go budgeting.)

- As the 110th Congress got underway in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Democratic House leaders introduced rules they said would "help bring back integrity, civility and fiscal responsibility" to the chamber.

"This week, Democrats will change the way business is done in Washington by enacting new rules to govern the House," said new Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in a press release.

Hoyer said the party would "help bring integrity back to the House by breaking the link between lobbyists and lawmakers," "help bring civility back to the House by opening up the process and providing the minority a voice," and "help bring back fiscal responsibility by holding members accountable for their earmarks and reinstating the pay-as-you-go policies that helped bring about balanced budgets in the 1990s."

To accomplish the first goal, the House Thursday night approved an ethics reform package that:
    Bans gifts, including meals and tickets, from lobbyists and the organizations that employ them;Bans lobbyists from financing travel for members or staff, except one-day trips or travel provided by a private university;Requires certification and pre-approval for travel paid for by outside groups, beginning on March 1;Prohibits use of company planes; and
    Mandates annual ethics training for all House employees.
The measures passed 430-1, with only Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) voting no.

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, the Democrats got off to a shaky start on their "civility" goal on Thursday, when House leaders announced they would not allow Republicans the chance to amend any of the first half-dozen bills to be brought to a vote.

"We view the first 100 hours as essentially a mandate from the American people," Hoyer told reporters in explaining that decision.

Nevertheless, House Democrats hope to make progress in restoring civility on Friday, when the chamber will vote on measures to: prohibit holding votes open for the sole purpose of affecting the outcome; and require adequate notice of conference committee meetings to ensure member attendance.

'Proof in the pudding'

Also on Friday, Democrats will focus on "fiscal responsibility" through debate of measures promoting "Pay-As-You-Go" (PAYGO) budgeting and earmark reform, a reference to pork-barrel projects or line items inserted in "must-pass" legislation.

According to a Democratic fact sheet, PAYGO restrictions "will not allow consideration of any bill, amendment or conference report where the combined effect of provisions affecting mandatory spending (such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and farm bills) and revenue would increase the deficit over the five-year and 10-year windows, relative to the Congressional Budget Office baseline."

In addition, "Democrats also plan to pursue pay-as-you-go legislation in order to protect our grandchildren from mountains of debt and spur economic growth."

The proposed earmark reform would "require committees to disclose the sponsors of any earmarks" and require members to "certify that they (and their spouses) have no personal financial interest in the request."

Dani Doane, director of House relations for the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Cybercast News Service the Democrats' proposals "sound good," but "the proof is in the pudding and not the rhetoric."

"Congress makes the rules, so Congress can break the rules," she said. Despite any change in House traditions, members "can do a budget point of order and waive it at any point. There are no real teeth in the way they're dealing with the budget right now."

"One of the biggest problems with PAYGO is that you have to pay for increased spending, which the Democrats refuse to do by cutting spending elsewhere, so they end up raising taxes," Doane added. "Existing entitlements aren't affected at all."

Conservatives "support a statutory PAYGO" -- which would be enforced by the rule of law -- over the Democrats' proposal, which is "based on promises and hope," Doane said.

"I'm actually more encouraged by the individual measures they're talking about, like not decreasing the student loan rate across the board because they want to stick to PAYGO," she said.

Regardless of the outcome in the House, the Senate is not expected to deal with ethics reform until next week, and the Democrats' slim 51-49 majority means the GOP will have more influence in that chamber's efforts.

Still, Hoyer remained optimistic on Thursday that the Democrats' ethics reform is just the start of positive outcomes in the House.

Before President Bush gives his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Jan. 23, "we will show the American people that we will change Washington, run the people's House for the people and govern effectively and get results," Hoyer said.

See Also:
Pelosi's Pledge #1: Give Americans a Raise (Jan. 3, 2007)
Pelosi's Pledge #2: Tuition Promise Could Hurt More Than Help (Jan. 4, 2007)
Pelosi's Pledge #3: Drug Plan Unlikely to Pass or Work, Critics Say (Jan. 5, 2007)
Pelosi's Pledge #4: Pelosi Holds Out 'Hope' for Cures for Diseases (Jan. 5, 2007)

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