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Legislatvie Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise briefly to support the amendment offered by Senator Reid. I also support the amendment that was introduced by Senator Dodd and Senator Santorum, of which I am a cosponsor. But let me focus on the particular provision in Senator Reid's bill, the honest leadership bill, that I think all of us should pay attention to, and that is the provision which closes a loophole that would still allow Members and staff to receive free meals from lobbyists up to $50 in value.

On my way over to the floor, I passed a couple of security guards and Capitol police. I asked them how often lobbyists had bought them a meal. Surprisingly, they said none.

I talked to the young women who help us on the elevators on the way up. I asked them: Has a lobbyist ever bought you a meal? The answer was ``no.''

In cities and towns all across America, it turns out people pay for their own lunches and their own dinners, people who make far less than we do, people who cannot afford their medical bills or their mortgages or their kids' tuitions. If you ask them if they think that people they send to Congress should be able to rack up a $50 meal on a lobbyist's time, what do you think they are going to say? You ask them if they think we should be able to feast on a free steak dinner at a fancy restaurant while they are working two jobs to put food on the table. I don't think we need a poll to find out the answer to that one.

I want to be clear. In no way do I think that any of my colleagues or staffers would exchange votes for a meal. But that is not the point. It is not just the meal that is the problem, it is the perception, the access that the meals get you. In current Washington culture, lobbyists are expected to pick up the tab when they meet with Members or staff. It is understood by all sides that the best way to get face time with a Member is to buy them a meal. You don't see many Members eating $50 meals with constituents who come into town to talk about issues on their minds, or with policy experts who are discussing the latest economic theories. Most of these meals that are taken are with lobbyists who are advocating on behalf of special interests. It diminishes perceptions, and it is something that I think has to stop.

Let me close by saying this. If people are interested in meeting with lobbyists or having dinner with lobbyists, they can still do so. It is very simple. You pull out your wallet and pay for it.

I strongly urge we support the Reid amendment. In addition, I strongly support the Dodd-Santorum amendment, of which I am a cosponsor.

I yield my time.

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