There was a moment, after Abramoff's guilty plea in January, when real reform seemed possible. Everything was on the table, anxious leaders of both parties declared. Everyone wanted to be a reformer. No more.
New Majority Leader John Boehner has nixed the efforts of Dennis Hastert and David Dreier in the House. The Democratic plan stands no chance of passing a Republican Congress. And the Senate has failed to adopt or even consider any of the reforms that would actually make a difference: publicly financed elections, an independent ethics enforcement agency with teeth, a ban on lobbyist fundraising.
"Reform legislation is now crippled," Public Citizen declared yesterday.
The opportunities for overhaul do not appear often. The last time Congress took up lobbying was 1995. Since then the profession has exploded, its influence at an all-time high. See "Billions for Big Oil."
The American people want a dramatic cleanup, as I wrote a few months back:
Ninety percent of respondents in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll say it should be illegal for lobbyists to give members of Congress gifts, trips or other things of value. More than two-thirds of the public don't want lobbyists giving campaign contributions to Congressmen or Congressional candidates. A majority believe lobbyists shouldn't organize fundraisers on a candidate's behalf.
Tough luck. Banning gifts and meals is enough for most Senators. Refuse a hamburger and call it a day. Abramoff is all but forgotten in Washington--that is, until another indictment hits the front page.
UPDATE: The legislation passed this afternoon 90-8. I'm assuming Sens. McCain, Graham, Obama, Feingold and Kerry voted against the bill because it was too weak. Sens. Coburn, Inhofe and DeMint presumably voted nay because they oppose the entire concept of lobbying reform.