Tuesday, July 31, 2007

House Passes Major Lobbying and Ethics Overhaul, Other Measures

On the heels of an bribery investigation into Republican Senator Ted Stevens, the House today passed a lobbying and ethics bill , 411-8, sending it to the Senate for final action. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was expected to file a cloture motion later Tuesday on a motion to call up the House-passed measure, according to CQPolitics.com: "Because the measure would change Senate rules to require disclosure of earmarks and their authors in appropriations, tax and tariff measures, Reid will need two-thirds of those present and voting to invoke cloture and limit debate. Democrats hoped the huge House vote would lend momentum to the bill in the Senate."

The measure would require campaign committees to disclose bundled contributions sent to them by lobbyists and others every six months and strip pension benefits from members of Congress who are convicted of bribery and other crimes related to their official business. Senators would be barred from lobbying former colleagues for two years after they leave office, but the bill would maintain the current one-year cooling off period for House members after they leave office. All earmarks in tax, tariff and spending bills or conference reports, and their sponsors, would have to be disclosed on the Internet at least 48 hours before Senate votes. Provisions added in conference at the last minute — so-called “dead of night” provisions — would have to receive 60 votes in order for the conference report to survive challenges on budget points of order.

If the Senate passes the bill on Thursday, this becomes the third major legislative victory for Democrats so far this year after the minimum wage increase and implementing more of the 9/11 commission's security recommendations.

The House also passed bills that call on the U.S. government to list companies with more than $20 million invested in Iran's energy sector or with business in Sudan supporting the genocide. Money managers who decide to divest from companies on the lists would also be protected from lawsuits. The Iran bill was approved by a 408-6 vote, the Sudan bill by 418-1. The White House opposes the measures, but they are clearly veto-proof. Similar bills pend in the Senate.

Lastly, the House voted to nullify the recent Ledbetter ruling by the Supreme Court, 225-199, by allowing workers to sue for wage discrimination long after a deadline the court imposed. The White House has threatened a veto.

The House of Representatives is set to debate and possibly vote on the bill this Friday (just before lawmakers leave for their month-long summer recess) on energy legislation that requires home appliances to use less energy, imposes green building codes and cuts billions of dollars in subsidies to oil and natural gas companies. The bill would need to be reconciled with the Senate version. Meanwhile, the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee approved a bill, 10-9, that would require the EPA to act on a California request for a waiver allowing it to implement a 2004 state regulation designed to reduce emissions from automobiles. "The state rule would put into place a major state-level climate change program, even as Congress is still debating whether to pass federal legislation. Several other states hope to issue rules identical to California’s if the EPA grants its approval."

On Monday, the House passed a resolution urging Japan to apologize for coercing thousands of women to work as sex slaves for its World War II military and also passed four bills designed “to improve counseling and care for the tens of thousands of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.” That legislation now goes to the Senate.

Last Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee voted 20-1 to give the U.S. government new tools to press China to raise the value of its currency. The Bush administration said it opposed the bill, but the overwhelming vote shows Congress is headed toward passing legislation by a big enough margin to overcome any presidential veto. The House still needs to consider the bill.

Finally, three Senators are proposing a bill to establish a regional primary system for presidential elections that would take effect in 2012.

UPDATE: FBI-raided Sen. Stevens is threatening to block the ethics bill in the Senate, according to The Politico. You just can't make this stuff up.

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