FNC On the Record - Transcript
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: In response to the corruption and scandal that recently rocked the nation's capital, Democrats say they have a new ethics plan for the House and the Senate. Their plan comes just one day after Republicans outlined the ethics reforms they want to see put into action.
Earlier this evening we spoke with Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, what is the Democratic idea for ethics reform?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: Well, I think it's a pretty simple concept. We've seen a systematic corruption of the process I think over the last several years. You've seen a doubling of the number of lobbyists here in Washington.
You've seen the notorious K Street Project in which folks like Tom DeLay specifically said to these lobbies that you've got to contribute to Republicans and hire Republicans in order to have input in legislative matters.
And, I think what we want to do is to try to restore some balance, eliminate gift and travel bans, try to reduce the revolving door where you have somebody like a Billy Tauzin who's overseeing important issues related to pharmaceutical companies at the same time as he's negotiating an exit strategy to take over PHRMA.
I think we want to make sure that there's transparency in the process so that you don't have conference reports that are taking place in the middle of the night being stuffed with special interest legislation, then being popped out onto the floor of the Senate or the House without anybody having an opportunity to read them. And, we want to improve the disclosure mechanism so that voters know exactly what's going on.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why did it take an indictment for the Democratic members in the House and the Senate to step forward and the Republicans?
OBAMA: Well, you know, in fairness there have been people like Russ Feingold, Rahm Emanuel had a bill back in May before indictments had come down. Just because you introduce a bill doesn't mean you can get leadership to call it and there just hasn't been much interest on the part of the existing Republican leadership to move this forward.
I think there is some impetus now. It's certainly true that, you know, the Democrats don't have a monopoly on virtue and money and politics that intersection and the role of money in providing access that's been going on in Washington for a long time.
I do think that there has been a qualitative shift in the last several years that is deeply disturbing and hopefully the legislation that we're proposing will at least move things back into more balance. It doesn't mean that there isn't still going to be stuff to work on and I think that voters are rightly cynical and concerned when they see the byproducts of this process.
VAN SUSTEREN: Does anybody feel sort of guilty up here in Capitol Hill like thinking like, oh brother, the culture really has been bad I mean?
OBAMA: I hope that one of the things...
VAN SUSTEREN: Or is that we got caught?
OBAMA: No, I hope that one of the things that's happened is an element of shame. Some of the stuff is just - these bad habits that get in the minds of people I'm a little concerned that so much focus has been placed on Jack Abramoff and the lobbyists and not enough attention has been placed on the structure of the House of Representatives, in particular, but also in the Senate that is facilitating the access and the influence of the lobbyists.
When you have power consolidated in the hands of a Tom DeLay and you can't introduce any kind of amendments without going through Tom DeLay and votes only happen when Tom DeLay says it's OK and the opposition party in the House has absolutely no power and the Ethics Committee of the House has no power, then what you have is power that's so concentrated that it facilitates a Jack Abramoff from accessing Tom DeLay and getting done whatever it is that he needs done.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is that the plantation remark by Senator Clinton is that what...
OBAMA: I think that's what she was referring to and the more that we can disperse power the better chance we have of ordinary citizens getting the kind of responsive government that they want.
And, I think that you have a structural problem here in Washington of concentrated power combined with big money with respect to, you know, corporate contributions and special interests and a sort of systematic process in terms of lobbyists in which you've seen a doubling of the number of lobbyists since George Bush came into office that that's the kind of thing that we're going to have to reverse.