Thursday, January 18, 2007

Senate ethics bill goes down

Thanks to Republican hardball.

Senate Republicans scuttled broad legislation last night to curtail lobbyists' influence and tighten congressional ethics rules, refusing to let the bill pass without a vote on an unrelated measure that would give President Bush virtual line-item-veto power.

The line-item measure was offered as an amendment, and the Democrats couldn't muster enough votes to cut off debate and proceed to a vote on the ethics bill sans amendment.

The Post story seems to accept the Democratic line too strongly, because a line-item veto is arguably related to pork-barrel reform, and all that was required to move things forward was allowing an up-or-down vote on the amendment. But things are rarely that simple in Congress, Where a majority of senators support the veto but a large minority oppose it as well. Meaning that in a simple up-or-down vote the veto amendment would pass, but the full amended bill would then likely fail because not enough senators would agree to cut off debate and allow a vote.

The Republicans, however, refused to accept a promise by Harry Reid to bring the line-item veto to the floor later for a separate debate, because they know that the veto needs to be attached to some legislation with serious momentum if it's going to stand a chance. Complicating things further, any compromise is opposed by Democrat Robert Byrd, a known opponent of the line-item veto.

The Republicans (and Byrd) are in the wrong on this one. Let the ethics bill come to a vote, and schedule a later debate and vote on the line-item veto -- or attach it other must-pass legislation later. Such a veto is not a panacea, but it is a helpful tool in eliminating the most egregious forms of pork and waste. Clinton had it briefly until that version was declared unconstitutional (thanks in part to a lawsuit by several senators, including Byrd); there's no reason not to let a GOP president have it, too, and see if it passes constitutional muster this time.

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