The larger ethics effort began with fanfare in January, prompted by a series of congressional scandals that started with the guilty plea of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff on fraud and conspiracy charges.
The ethics bill faltered, however, after being gradually diluted, at least compared with the initial promises made by congressional leaders. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), for example, advanced a plan that would have prohibited lawmakers from accepting privately funded travel. But lawmakers rejected that provision along with many others that would have restricted lobbyists or would have done more than improve disclosure about lobbyists' encounters with Congress.
The House and the Senate did endorse separate lobbying-overhaul bills this spring, but efforts to reconcile them stalled over a disagreement about a House-passed provision that would restrict independent campaign organizations called 527s. Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans refused to accept the provision, but the House insisted that it be included in the final bill.
Lawmakers from both parties and both chambers also lost their enthusiasm for the bill as lobbying groups pressured them to water down the legislation and voters remained silent
about its diminishing prospects.
Democratic leaders complained about the earmarks change yesterday. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) called it "shameful" and "a sham." She said that the measure would not end the abuse of the earmarking process and was filled with loopholes that would still permit anonymous projects to be inserted into law without public scrutiny.
Obey called the measure a "trivial pursuit," saying it would do little to alter federal spending while blocking a serious updating of federal ethics laws. "The majority has labored long and produced a mouse," Obey added, "or a fig leaf at best."