LEGISLATIVE TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - January 09, 2007)
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Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, first, let me praise our great majority leader and Senator McConnell, the minority leader, for bringing us together for a good start to the 110th Congress. The idea of a joint caucus, both parties coming together to send a signal that we were going to work together in the 110th Congress as we begin, was a very good step. I believe Senator Reid said we are now entering a season of hope and that we can move forward with hope for positive results in the 110th Congress. Senator McConnell talked about how a government, even though it may be divided by the two parties and the executive branch, can be the kind of government that can bring about good results for the people of America. That was a very good statement as well. Citing what happened in the 1981 Reagan Social Security revision, that was an example of how a divided Government could get a result, as well as his speaking about the 1996 welfare-to-work reform. That was another good example of how we can get things done.
I hope this Congress, in fact, gets to be known as the Congress that did, in fact, produce results for the American people and that we can work together to bring about those results.
Today, as we begin the consideration of S. 1, it is one of those efforts in which we together are attempting to show results to the American people to restore the confidence of the American people in the institutions that belong to them.
It is no coincidence that this is the first bill to come before this new Senate. This bill lays a foundation for everything that we hope to do in the months and years ahead. It does so by addressing three fundamental needs.
First, it addresses the need to restore the people's faith in their Government. Indeed, in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, the conviction of former Congressman Duke Cunningham, and the various other allegations and investigations that have created this problem in Washington, DC, it is clear that the American people have lost faith in their Government.
In case we didn't know it beforehand, that message was sent loudly and clearly by the voters in the November elections. With this bill, we have the opportunity to restore that lost faith without which we cannot effectively conduct the business of the people of America.
Second, this bill also addresses the need to bring greater transparency to the Government of America. As Justice Brandeis said a long time ago:
Sunshine is said to be the best of disinfectants.
These words have particular resonance with the American people as we look to end today the practice of holding one-party conference committees; of placing strange and anonymous holds, not knowing where they come from, on legislation and nominations just because someone wants to prevent progress from taking place; and slipping provisions into conference reports that were not passed by either Chamber, some of these provisions being slipped into the conference reports in the dead of night. With this bill, we look to replace these secretive practices with a more open and transparent Congress for the American people.
Third, we also need to take on the influence of special interests and to curb those influences of special interests on the Government of America.
When the American people see a revolving door between Congress and the K Street lobbying firms, when they see Members of Congress and staff treated to gifts and travel paid by lobbyists, when they see legislation changed at the behest of a special interest, they understandably roll their eyes. With this bill, we look to curb the influence of special interests in favor of the people's interest because all of us were elected to represent the people first.
This bill is not a perfect bill, and we will work this week to refine and improve the bill. For example, I would like to see the denial of Federal pensions to Members of Congress who are convicted of certain crimes. I am proud to support an amendment with Senator John Kerry which would do just that in this legislation. The likes of former Congressman Duke Cunningham and the bribery that occurred in that particular case should be the grounds for the denial of pensions to Federal Congressmen and Congresswomen.
I would also like to see greater transparency in the committee process, and I will offer an amendment on that issue later this week.
I also believe it is important to note that this bill touches on ethics in the executive branch. We know there has been so much focus in the public debate on how this deals only with the legislative branch of Government, but, in fact, this legislation will also end up creating a new program of Government independence and integrity in the executive branch.
It will do so by extending the revolving door for very senior executive branch employees from 1 to 2 years and by expressing the sense of the Senate that any applicable restrictions on congressional branch employees should also apply to the executive and judicial branches of Government.
We need to make sure that every branch of Government has strong ethics rules. I look forward to working with my colleagues to accomplish that goal in the coming months. It is my hope that the relevant committees address these issues in the near future.
Let me make a comment about this issue.
The fact is, the House of Representatives is dealing with ethics as their first issue, and the Senate is dealing with ethics as our first issue. We are taking a very important step in the right direction, but at the end of the day, it is the loss of confidence of the people of America in their Government in Washington as a whole that we need to take a look at, and the issues we deal with here are only focused largely on the legislative branch of Government, but there are also a whole host of issues in the executive branch of Government that should require us to take a hard look at what it is that all of our Government officials are doing.
At the end of the day, our goal should be to try to make sure the integrity of Government extends to all aspects of
the Government and that the confidence of the people we all represent extends to a confidence in all of our Government. The only way we can do that is to make sure we have the highest ethical standards that apply to the Congress as well as to the White House and to the executive branch of Government.
It is my sincere hope that the committees of jurisdiction, including the Committee on Governmental Affairs and Homeland Security and other committees that will look at this issue, will also help us bring about that kind of cultivation with respect to how we look at integrity in Government.
It isn't enough for us to clean out only a part of the barn in Washington, DC. I am a rancher and a farmer in terms of my upbringing. When you go in, you clean out the whole barn. Our effort is to clean up Washington, DC, and, if it is a committed effort on the part of both Democrats and Republicans, we need to make sure we are cleaning out the whole barn.
Finally, it is important to make sure that we all recognize this bill is moving us forward in the right direction in a number of ways. It bans all gifts, and it bans meals and travel paid for by lobbyists. That is a ban that did not exist before this context. It is an important step in the right direction.
Second, it requires public disclosure within 3 days of any hold placed on a nomination or on legislation. During the 109th Congress, Democrats and Republicans who were part of legislation we were trying to get through could not find out who was putting holds on legislation. That is not the way to do business. If a Senator has a problem with a bill, if they want to put a hold on a bill, they ought to tell their colleagues what it is they have a problem with, what is the substantive issue that causes that Senator a concern that requires him or her to put a hold on a bill.
This is a very important procedural positive step forward for this institution, and I look forward to strongly supporting that part of the bill.
Third is closing the revolving door between Congress and K Street by extending the cooling off period of Members of Congress and stiffening the rules regarding lobbying activity by senior staff members. It is an important rule that allows us to close that revolving door which has been a part of Washington, DC, for far too long.
Fourth, this legislation requires that conference reports be made available to the public at least 48 hours before their consideration by the Senate. That way not only be the public of the United States of America but also the Members of this body will have an opportunity to study what is in the legislation and will be able to react so we do not enact legislation that is passed in the dead of night without people knowing on what they are voting.
Fifth, the bill requires a list of earmarks in a bill, the identity of the Senators who propose them, and also identity of their essential Government purpose.
For the last year, we have talked about earmark reform and the importance of moving forward with changes in the earmark process, which has been a part of this body probably since its inception, but making sure we know where those earmarks are coming from, who is proposing them, and what is the essential governmental purpose that is being addressed by that particular earmark.
It is essential for us to be able to tell the American public what it is we are doing with taxpayers' dollars. I fully support the earmark proposals that are put forth in this legislation.
As a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, I am also pleased to join with my colleagues in supporting the aspects of the bill that would do the following:
First, it would require the Ethics Committee of the Senate to report on an annual basis with detailed statistics on the number of alleged violations and the status of complaints that are pending before the Ethics Committee of the Senate.
Second, it would require the Ethics Committee that it conduct mandatory ethics training not only for Senators but also for all of our staffs who are affected by the decisions and the activities of our office on an ongoing basis.
And, third, that we as a Senate move forward in the creation of an independent commission to make recommendations on the effectiveness of congressional ethics rules and lobbying disclosure laws.
It is important to note that these changes are necessary, not because there is something inherently wrong or dishonorable about the process of petitioning the Government. They are important and they are necessary because the American people have lost faith in their Government and because our Government should be doing more to have a Government that is transparent and a Government that is responsive to the business of the people.
I commend the leadership, Senator Reid and Senator McConnell, members of the Rules Committee, my colleagues and friends from California and Utah who are the managers of this bill, and members of the Governmental Affairs and Homeland Security Committee for their work. This is very important legislation that is taking an important first step in restoring the faith of the American people in the integrity of their Government.
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