Paul Jacob

Chalk up another landmark achievement for congressional Democrats — last week they passed an ethics and lobbying "reform" bill. Or so we're told.

"What we did today was momentous. It's historic," declared Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after the vote of 411 to 8.

The Washington Post called it "a landmark bill."

When the U.S. Senate passed the bill, sending it to the president, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dubbed it the "most sweeping ethics and lobbying reform in history," saying it would produce "a government as good and honest as the people it represents."

Is he serious? Can this new law make a rotten Congress "good"? Or honest? Does any sane person really believe that?

Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) sure doesn't. As the Senate's biggest supporter of transparency regarding earmarks and the strongest opponent of such pork in the first place, he has standing.

"This bill is a landmark betrayal, not a landmark accomplishment," Coburn declared after its passage. "Congress had a historic opportunity to expose secretive pork-barrel spending but instead created new ways to hide that spending."

Coburn points out a number of ways the original legislation was gutted:

• The bill was changed to make earmark disclosure voluntary rather than mandatory.
• The requirement of 67 Senate votes to suspend the earmark disclosure rule was changed to 40 votes — less than a majority.
• The language prohibiting a member or staff from promoting earmarks they would personally benefit from was completely eviscerated.
• So was the language prohibiting a member from trading votes for earmarks.
• The requirement that earmarks be put on the Internet 48 hours after their inclusion in legislation was changed to "as soon as practical."
• The non-partisan Senate parliamentarian was replaced by the majority leader as the referee determining whether earmark disclosure requirements are met.
• The bill also weakened other elements of disclosure and transparency.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.