The British newspaper The Guardian reports that the watered-down version of ethics reform will apparently get Republican backing after all in the Senate. Despite removing requirements for certification by chamber parliamentarians for earmark compliance, the elimination of searchability, and the restriction of the definition of personal benefit to an impossibility for enforcement, the Minority Leader and the Republican Whip both indicated that they would press the caucus to pass the bill:
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he will fight the bill because it “guts key earmark reforms.” He noted that, unlike a previously adopted version, it would allow the majority party’s leaders – not the Senate parliamentarian- to rule on whether earmark disclosure requirements have been met in bills reaching the Senate floor.
Dissident senators would not be able to challenge the ruling, but they could try to strike an unreported earmark by offering an amendment.
Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., said some Republicans think a nonpartisan “third party or parliamentarian” should rule on such disclosure matters, but he stopped short of saying he would oppose the bill. …
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined to say whether he would support the bill. He noted that an objection from Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina – who shares some of Coburn’s concerns – prevented House and Senate negotiators from working on a final draft in conference.
“As a result of that, none of our people were involved in the final product,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “But in a sense, we made it difficult on ourselves because one of our members prevented us from going to conference.”
So with the biggest Republican porker in the Senate answering search warrants from both the FBI and the IRS today, the GOP chooses today to shrug off the dilution of key earmark reforms? What’s left on earmarks is almost useless, and earmarks have been at the heart of almost every major public corruption case over the last few Congresses.
That’s not to say that the bill doesn’t have other good points. It puts more pressure for disclosure of “bundling” contributions from lobbyists to political campaigns, for example, and it does require the reporting of earmarks 48 hours before a vote. However, it doesn’t require that for conference reports, and it fails to provide the easy accountability that the previous version did — the version that Democrats used to congratulate themselves on their new direction on ethics in January.
Mitch McConnell has done an especially good job as Minority Leader so far in this session. He must believe that opposing the bill in its current form would allow the Democrats to paint the GOP as opposed to reform. We need to demonstrate that we need real earmark reform, not another coat of varnish on the existing system — and that fighting for real reform will win the confidence of voters in the long run.