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Reid Concedes to DeMint in a Big Battle Over Earmark Disclosure

January 12, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

I have been talking a lot about what is going on in the House of Representatives this week, and not much about the Senate. Bills are flying through the House, thanks to all the excitement associated with the 100 Hour Plan, but in the Senate they are still working on their first bill, S.1.

It’s not that they aren’t working hard. They are. Instead of passing bills through on sheer strength of support, the Senate is dissecting and perfecting in order to come out with the best possible bill. The Democratic majority in the Senate is only held by one vote, so it’s more bipartisan by nature, which leads to more debate. It’s easy for members to vote with the other party, so voting is less about sticking to the party line, and more about reaching sound legislation.

The Senate has spent the whole week working on its own version of the swiftly passed House ethics bill H.R.6. The corresponding Senate bill is numbered S.1. The actual text of the bill that was negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is not as tough on lobbying and earmark reform as the House bill. The bill as it was written only calls for disclosure of earmarks for projects on the state and local level, precisely the ones that legislators are most proud of, and make a point to disclose to their constituents. Earmarks that fund federal agencies would not need to be made publicly known under the original bill language.

According to Senator Tom Coburn, only 534 of the 12,852 earmarks in last year’s bills would have to be disclosed under the rules as the bill is written.

Republican Senator Jim DeMint proposed an amendment on Thursday that mirrored the tougher House bill’s language on earmark disclosure. After debating the amendment, a movement led by Democrat Dick Durbin was made to table the amendment. The movement to table the amendment failed, in large part because 10 Democrtatic Senators voted in favor of keeping the Republican-sponsored amendment alive. Interestingly, the bills original authors were split on this vote. Reid voted to kill the amendment, while McConnell voted to keep it alive. Either McConnell suddenly gained courage for his own party’s plight, or he didn’t actually play a big role in writing this part of the bill in the first place.

The amendment hasn’t actually been voted on yet. After it survived the vote to kill it, DeMint requested a voice vote to pass it, as is customary procedure, but his request was rejected by Majority Leader Reid. Reid commented, "I’ve told my friend, Senator DeMint…. This amendment he’s offered is going to take a little more time.” He went on to say, “sometime we’ll have an opportunity to vote on the amendment. I hope it’s rejected.”

It will come to a vote on Tuesday, followed by a vote on Reid’s own amendment that will slightly modify it.

Reid said his changes include a tighter definition of a targeted “tax benefit” to help a limited group. “This is a flexible and more realistic standard,” said Majority Whip Durbin. Reid’s amendment would also require 48-hour notice on the Internet and aims to prevent lawmakers such as imprisoned former Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif., from thwarting disclosure rules.

The changes that Reid is proposing to the amendment are so slight, that it seems like at this point he is just trying to have the final word. It is unlikely that he would have tried to table this amendment for details as small as these. This whole back and forth on the amendment takes precious time that Reid, I would imagine, doesn’t feel like he has.

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