Key Elements Missing From End-of-Session Congressional Legislation on Ethics and Energy
It's a very good thing that the Democratic-controlled Congress is pushing ahead with ethics and energy legislation, but key elements of both laws seem to be slipping out of their grasp as the bills move toward final passage. The House passed broad ethics reform legislation two days ago on a 411 to 8 vote and the Senate will vote on cutting off debate on a parallel measure this morning, and the measures promise much greater disclosure of lobbying activities (such as bundling of contributions) and legislative earmarks (pet projects in spending bills). However, as Paul Kane explains in the Washington Post blog Capitol Briefing today, the badly needed ethics reform component of an independent commission to handle ethics complaints is not in the bill and "not even close" to consideration by the House. The current system is dysfunctional because the House ethics panel is evenly divided between the parties and often is slow to act if not deadlocked. The new commission, to be composed of former members and/or experts, would receive public complaints and initiate proceedings before the panel, thus alleviating the gridlock. However, entrenched members of both parties regard the change as interference with the legislature's autonomy, and the task force in charge of studying the proposal has been unable to garner support for any of its proposals. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), head of the task force, thought he was close to a deal in June, but now thinks that the task force isn't likely to formulate an agreed proposal until October or November.
As to the energy bill, which the House will take up tomorrow (the last day before the August recess), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has persuaded Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) to withdraw his proposed amendment that would have boosted fuel economy standards, which have not changed since 1975, from 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and 22.2 for small trucks and SUVs to 35 mpg for both categories of vehicles by 2019. The GOP had tried to counter the Markey amendment with a much slower increase (32 to 35 mpg by 2022). The saving grace here is that the Senate has already passed a version of the energy law that includes an increase in the mileage requirements similar to Markey's, which Pelosi hopes will be retained in the final version of the legislation.