Senate Democrats

Reid: The Senate Is Committed To Tough New Ethics Reform

Washington, DCSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada today delivered the following remarks on the Floor of the United States Senate, introducing a bipartisan substitute amendment that will dramatically strengthen ethics reform legislation currently under debate and an additional amendment to take the new legislation even further. The substitute amendment, cosponsored with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, will add new restrictions to close the revolving door between K Street and the Capitol, eliminate “dead-of-night” legislating in conference reports, add new rules to restore fiscal discipline, and bring greater transparency to the earmark process. Senator Reid’s second amendment takes ethics reform even further, improving the ban on gifts from lobbyists to include companies and other organizations that even employ or retain lobbyists; strengthening the rules to ban travel paid for by companies and other organizations that employ or retain lobbyists; and adding new rules to require members of the Senate to pay the full charter fare if they wish to travel on private planes. Together, the two amendments mark a major step forward for ethics reform in the Senate, and are exactly the kind of action Americans demanded when they called for change last November. Working in a bipartisan spirit of cooperation, Democrats are committed to cleaning up Washington to making Congress serve the American people again. The text of Senator Reid’s speech, as prepared, is below. Mr. President, I am very pleased that the Senate has begun to debate S. 1, The Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007. It’s a strong, bipartisan package of ethics reforms, and it will help to reassure the American people that we answer only to them. As I said yesterday, S. 1 is a good start, but I believe the Senate can do even better. The American people are watching this debate in the Senate, and they are expecting real, meaningful results. They aren’t interested in quick fixes, or window dressing, or in a few public relations moves. They want bold changes. They want us to fundamentally alter the way business is done in the nation’s capitol, and to ensure that the people’s interests – not the special interests – always come first in the Halls of Congress. So today, Senator McConnell and I will introduce a substitute amendment designed to make the Senate’s ethics legislation even stronger. I thank the Republican leader for his outstanding cooperation. He cosponsored the underlying bill, S. 1, and he has now cosponsored this strengthening amendment. He and I know how important it is to work in a bipartisan way in the United States Senate. Let me describe a few of the highlights of the Reid-McConnell substitute amendment. First, the substitute will place new prohibitions and disclosure requirements on lawmakers and senior staff when they seek private sector employment. The underlying bill slowed the revolving door between top government jobs and lucrative private sector employment, but the substitute amendment will do even more to reduce the undue influence that results from the revolving door. Second, the Reid-McConnell substitute will eliminate “dead-of-night” changes to conference reports. Once a conference report has been signed, it will be completely impermissible to change it. Third, the substitute includes a reform proposed by the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Budget Committee, Senators Conrad and Gregg, requiring that conference reports be accompanied by a CBO score. We need to restore fiscal discipline and reduce the huge deficits that have developed over the past six years. Finally, the substitute amendment will strengthen the provision in the underlying bill requiring disclosure of earmarks. In recent years, we’ve seen lawmakers – working on lobbyists’ behalf – insert anonymous earmarks – costing taxpayers millions of dollars – into legislation at the last minute. In these instances, the earmarking process has been subject to abuses that we must all work together to bring to an end. If an earmark has merit, a lawmaker should be willing to stand by it publicly. That is why – under this bill – if a member of Congress wants to direct taxpayer funds to a specific need or cause, they will be required to attach their name to it in the light of day. Mr. President, last November, the American people called for bold changes in the way Washington does business. In the Senate, we’ve made answering this call for change our first priority. Democrats, Republicans, we introduced a sweeping package of ethics reforms as our first item of legislation, and today, Senator McConnell and I have made the bill even tougher. Now, I will go even further with an additional amendment. This new amendment contains three major provisions. First, it strengthens the gift ban in the underlying bill. Whereas S. 1 bans gifts from lobbyists to Members of Congress and staff, my amendment will go one step further and ban gifts from companies and other organizations that even employ or retain lobbyists. Second, my amendment strengthens the travel ban in the underlying bill. Whereas S. 1 bans travel paid for by lobbyists, my amendment will go further and ban – with some common sense exceptions – travel paid for by companies and other organizations that employ or retain lobbyists. Finally, the Reid amendment will include a very significant reform about which there has been much discussion in recent days. My amendment will require members of the Senate to pay the full charter fare if they wish to travel on private planes. If a Senator wants to fly on a private jet for any purpose, he or she should be required to pay the full cost of that trip, not a discounted rate. Mr. President, these reforms are not aimed at any particular lawmakers, or political party. They are designed to remove even the appearance of impropriety from this Congress – to send a strong signal to the American public that their elected representatives are not unduly influenced by the meals, travel and gifts that lobbyists and large corporations are willing to lavish. We all remember the scandals making headlines across America one year ago. Newspapers were filled with stories of lawmakers being flown around the world for rounds of golf, of corrupt lobbyists bilking their clients for millions of dollars, and of top Congressional staff being wined, dined and treated to sporting events by special interests trying to influence their bosses. These stories have a corrosive effect on the great institution in which we serve. We must make sure they are never repeated, by reassuring the American people that legislation can’t be traded, and their leaders can’t be bought. I look forward to spirited debate on these amendments and eventual passage of this bill. Together, we must do all we can to restore the faith of the American people in their government. We need to answer the people’s call for change.