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May 21, 2010

Congress Gets a Kick in the... Pants

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article senior writer for Public Affairs Television Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

"Congress Gets a Kick in the... Pants"
By Michael Winship

There's a story about a member of the British House of Commons who was stopped in the halls of Parliament by a constituent, an elderly pensioner. The little old man had a specific concern about his fellow senior citizens that he hoped the politician could solve.

He made his case clearly and intelligently and when he was finished, the Member of Parliament promised to see what might be done. As the MP turned to leave, the old man hauled off and kicked him in the backside as hard as he could.

The astonished politician turned; the old man waggled a finger and cheerily said, "Now don't forget!"

Few American politicians will forget that a lot of incumbent backsides were kicked by frustrated voters in Tuesday's primaries: longtime Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, a converted Democrat more from expedience than allegiance, lost renomination to Rep. Joe Sestak; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saw his handpicked Senate candidate go down in Kentucky, defeated by Tea Partier Rand Paul; and Arkansas Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff by progressive Democrat Bill Halter.

Yet for all the talk of an anti-incumbent fever sweeping the land, the image of angry voters manning the tumbrels and throwing the rascals out, consider the special congressional election for the late Democratic Congressman John Murtha's seat in southwestern Pennsylvania. Democrat Mark Critz handily defeated Republican Tea Partier Tim Burns and pundits declared it a big loss for the GOP, which had tried to play on anti-Obama and anti-Nancy Pelosi sentiment to defeat Critz.

Continue reading "Congress Gets a Kick in the... Pants" »

March 26, 2010

Can Washington Rein In Wall Street?

(Photo by Robin Holland)

In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with financial journalist Gretchen Morgenson about the financial reform legislation that lawmakers are crafting in Washington.

Morgenson said that the proposals she's seen have been insufficient to rein in many of the Wall Street abuses that helped bring on the economic meltdown.

"I think that the bills we have seen have been so half-baked and really do not address some of the crucial elements of reform that are needed if we want to prevent this kind of crisis from happening again... We are nowhere closer to any kind of technique [or] strategy to prevent that kind of behemoth from growing again... I myself have been stunned watching the brazenness with which [the bankers] are willing to operate now - just swaggering about town, throwing money at their problem, throwing money at legislators to make sure they don't have to face a formidable regulatory framework... They take the gains when their stock is rising, when their companies are profitable, but when they get into trouble, you socialize the losses. The taxpayer has to pay them. We have rewarded this kind of dysfunctional behavior... It wasn't that we needed more regulation. We needed regulators with an appetite to regulate. We had plenty of regulations on the books about mortgages, products, practices, [but] no one was enforcing it."

What do you think?

  • Do you believe that Washington lawmakers will create legislation that seriously tackles financial abuses from Wall Street?

  • What specifically would you like the legislation to address?

  • How can citizens take action to encourage regulators to actually regulate?

  • September 26, 2008

    The Imperial Presidency?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, scholar and former army colonel Andrew Bacevich discussed his vision of what has gone wrong with American government and policy over the last several decades.

    “The Congress, especially with regard to matters related to national security policy, has thrust power and authority to the executive branch. We have created an imperial presidency. The Congress no longer is able to articulate a vision of what is the common good. The Congress exists primarily to ensure the reelection of members of Congress... As the Congress has moved to the margins, as the President has moved to the center of our politics, the presidency itself has come to be less effective...

    Because of this preoccupation, this fascination with the presidency, the President has become what we have instead of genuine politics, instead of genuine democracy... We look to the next President to fix things and, of course, that lifts all responsibility from me to fix things. So one of the real problems with the imperial presidency is that it has hollowed out our politics and, in many respects, has made our democracy a false one. We’re going through the motions of a democratic political system, but the fabric of democracy really has worn very thin.”

    What do you think?

    Do you agree with Bacevich’s assessment? If yes, how can we fix it? If no, explain.

    Bacevich talks about the legislative and executive branches. How does the judicial branch relate to his discussion?

    July 28, 2008

    Money, Politics, and Your Local Leaders

    Speaking with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, former Senator Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings (D-SC), author of MAKING GOVERNMENT WORK, described one of his objections to the way Congress operates:

    “All the time is fundraisers. All the time is is money, money, money, money... [Former Senator] Dick Russell of Georgia says, ‘Now a senator is given a six year term rather than a two year term. He's given six years: the first two years to be a statesman, then the second two years to be a politician, [and] his last two years a demagogue.’ We use all six years to raise money. That's why I wrote the book, to try to get the government off its fanny and cut out all the politics and let's work for the country for a change.”

    What do you think?

    Does Hollings’ quote describe your Senators and Congressman? Who are your elected officials and what specific examples led you to your answer?

    July 9, 2008

    Sorting Right From Left

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talked with conservative authors Mickey Edwards and Ross Douthat about the state of American conservatism and the Republican party. Edwards said that in recent years the GOP has abandoned conservative principles:

    “Republicans used to believe in a certain set of basic principles about divided powers, limited government. What’s happened is with the Bush presidency, we have become the exact opposite of what we used to stand for.”

    Similarly, Bill Moyers suggested that the Democratic party may have become compromised:

    “I look at the [Democratic] party in Congress and realize how beholden it is to wealthy interests, corporate interests, the blue dogs, and all of that. And I think, well, maybe there’s fervor in the country but there seems to be ossification in Congress.”

    The charge that both parties have drifted from their core ideological principles, and may even have become similar to each other, has become popular among outsider candidates for the presidency. Speaking with Bill Moyers in January, libertarian Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) said that the Republican Party is no longer truly conservative:

    “I've been elected as a Republican for ten times, and Republicans have a platform – and had a better platform in the past... It's not like I'm completely a stranger to the Republican ideas – they talk about balanced budgets and they're strict Constitutionalists. I think the ones who are in charge right now have left the Republican Party and the platform, which makes it more difficult, because people in the party, the hard core base, which unfortunately for the Republicans is getting smaller, stick loyal to the leader. And they're loyal to maintaining power... I think I can be a good Republican and fight for these ideals, because they have been in the Republican Party in the past. And the question is, will these ideas be revived once again in the Republican Party?”

    Furthermore, some critics like Ralph Nader see little difference between the parties at all. When asked by THE NEW YORK TIMES, "So you really believe that the parties are the same?", Nader responded:

    “Yes, on most issues. On the most basic issues of cordoning power from people as voters, consumers and taxpayers, [the two parties are] very similar. Look at the massive mergers that went on during Clinton-Gore. GATT, Nafta, corporate crime, corporate welfare -- the same.”

    What do you think?

  • Are the differences between Republicans and Democrats as clear as the differences between Conservatives and Liberals?

  • Have America’s major political parties abandoned the political philosophies they claim to represent?

  • June 27, 2008

    Policies To Save Our Planet?

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, about her efforts to advance “cap and trade” legislation as a response to climate change.

    “We have to have a bill that gets the job done, that reduces greenhouse gas emissions so that temperatures don’t go up, you know, much above a couple of degrees over time, because if they do we’re in a lot of trouble here... There’s never going to be a good time. This is hard, we have to deal with it, and so we have to act. You cannot hide under the covers and say ‘wake me up when gas prices go under a dollar a gallon and then I’ll bring up global warming legislation’... I believe this can be structured in such a way that it actually brings around an economic renaissance.”

    An article from the WASHINGTON POST highlights some of the challenges the “cap and trade” model has faced since its implementation in Europe and could encounter in the United States.

    “What the snappy name ‘cap and trade’ means is that the market will put a price on something that’s always been free: the right of a factory to emit carbon gases. That could affect the cost of everything from windowpanes to airline tickets to electricity... In some ways, Europe’s program has been a success... in other ways, the approach has been a bureaucratic morass with a host of unexpected and costly side effects and a much smaller effect on carbon emissions than planned...

    One key issue is how to deal with imports from countries that don’t price carbon. A U.S. system that raised costs for U.S. firms would make imported goods, especially from India and China, even more competitive, adding to the trade deficit and possibly driving U.S. companies out of business”

    What do you think?

  • Should the government act on climate change? If so, should it pursue a "cap and trade" policy, or would you suggest alternative legislation?

  • February 15, 2008

    Where Does (And Should) The Money Go?

    In the JOURNAL this week, WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO? authors and budget scrutinizers Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson contend that Washington’s fiscal irresponsibility is propelling America toward troubled times.

    Scott Bittle said:

    “Eventually, if nothing is done, by 2040 every dollar the federal government has will be taken in by Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the money we’ve already borrowed... Right now, one of the few areas of bipartisanship in Washington is the willingness not to deal with the problem... The war is certainly making our financial problems worse. But it’s not the sole cause and it’s not the sole answer."

    Jean Johnson said:

    “People don’t realize that the country has been in the red 31 out of the last 35 years, in good times and bad... There is no way to solve this problem without either raising taxes or cutting programs, or doing some of both. Right now that is a political death sentence, and we have to change that... We’re all gonna have to give a little and we’re all gonna have to live with some things that are not our first choice, but not doing anything is so much worse.”

    What do you think?

  • How, if at all, do you suggest the tax code be altered to ease the government’s fiscal crunch?
  • What, if any, programs should be reduced or cut to balance the budget?
  • What other suggestions do you have to bring the federal budget into the black?

  • January 25, 2008

    Assessing The "Economic Growth Package"

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Ordinary Americans and the media alike have been astir this week with discussions of the looming recession and the “economic growth package” Washington quickly assembled in response. In her conversation with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL, sociologist Katherine Newman shared her thoughts about their plan:

    “It's a bad news situation out there for millions of Americans who are really going to worry about their futures and their children's futures... I think they'll be pleased to hear that Congress and the President have found some way to cooperate with one another. But a lot of people will be left out and left in the cold.

    I'm more encouraged than I thought I would be, because it provides rebates for people lower down the income spectrum that I thought it would. But I am very concerned about the long-term unemployed, which is rising, not only in general, but as a proportion of the unemployed. And that's one of the disappointments of the stimulus package... I think if we built more infrastructure, we would see a greater long term benefit from the money we're investing, because we will improve our roads, our schools. And you know, that's exactly what Franklin Roosevelt thought. And that’s why he put millions of Americans to work.”

    What do YOU think?

  • Do you support the “economic growth package” announced this week? Why?

  • Are you “pleased to hear” that the quick formulation of the “economic growth package” is the result of bipartisan cooperation?

  • Do you think it is a good idea for government to expand public employment in areas like infrastructure maintenance and education as a means to mend our economy?

  • January 18, 2008

    Leveling The Playing Field?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, investigative reporter David Cay Johnston said:

    "Get rich by working hard, working smarter, coming up with a better mouse-trap. Don’t get rich by getting the government to pass a law that sticks the government’s hand into my pocket, takes money out of it, and gives it to you. That’s not right. That’s not a fair playing field. Adam Smith warned again and again that it is the nature and tendency of business people to want to put their thumb on the scale and, even better, to get the government to put the thumb on the scale for their benefit... You need entrepreneurs to have a good society. I don’t have any problem with entrepreneurs. But we need to have a system that also fairly distributes... When we have people who make billon-dollar-a-year incomes and pay 15 percent taxes and janitors who pay the same tax rate and school teachers who pay a 25 percent tax rate, something’s amiss."

    What do you think?

  • Is America’s present tax system unfair? If so, what do you suggest?

  • Does government have the responsibility to pursue redistribution of wealth? If so, what are reasonable expectations for such a policy?

  • December 14, 2007

    Media Consolidation: What happens after the FCC vote?

    By Rick KarrRick Karr by Robin Holland

    (photo by Robin Holland)

    Next Tuesday (December 18), the five members of the Federal Communications Commission will decide whether or not the U.S. will go through another frenzy of media consolidation: They'll vote on Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's proposal to let newspapers buy radio and TV stations. Martin's plan is opposed by minority groups, a majority (pdf) of the public, and, as we report on this week's edition of THE JOURNAL, Capitol Hill lawmakers from both parties.

    I tell my students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism that reporters shouldn't make predictions because if they turn out to be wrong, the reporter loses credibility. But I'm throwing caution to the wind to make some predictions about Tuesday's FCC vote, anyway:

    Continue reading "Media Consolidation: What happens after the FCC vote?" »

    December 5, 2007

    Trade Update: The Peru Deal

    For those of you on the free trade beat, Senate Democrats and Republicans yesterday overwhelmingly approved a trade deal with Peru, handing President Bush "an unusual victory," says THE NEW YORK TIMES, yet it remains to be seen whether the deal will serve as a catalyst for similar agreements in Latin America and Asia.

    The Peru deal passed the House in November, though by a slimmer margin, after both parties reached a late compromise. As Speaker Pelosi explains after the vote:

    Today, the House built upon President John F. Kennedy’s legacy of free trade by passing an agreement that promotes both free and fair trade. The Peru Free Trade Agreement represents a remarkable breakthrough because Democrats were able to secure enforceable, basic labor rights and environmental standards in the core text of a free trade agreement.

    President Bush too praised the recent Senate vote, yet continues to urge lawmakers to hasten the passage of pending agreements:

    Today's action by the Senate also marks the approval of the first free trade agreement that fulfills the May 10 bipartisan trade agreement with Congress by incorporating enforceable labor and environmental standards. I look forward to signing this legislation into law and urge Congress to promptly consider and approve our other pending free trade agreements, starting with Colombia, which would be important to the stability of the region, and including Panama and South Korea.

    What do you think?

  • Will passage of the Peru agreement affect pending trade deals with Panama, South Korea and Colombia?

  • November 16, 2007

    Media Consolidation: A primer on making your opinion heard

    By Rick KarrRick Karr by Robin Holland

    Media laws and regulations are complex. And the process that establishes them is positively byzantine – a complex dance that involves not only the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but also Congress, the White House, courts, cabinet-level departments, and other agencies, as well.

    So here's a primer on how to tell the powers that be what you think about the current controversy over media consolidation that we cover on this week's JOURNAL:

    (Photo: Robin Holland)

    Continue reading "Media Consolidation: A primer on making your opinion heard" »

    November 8, 2007

    Bill Moyers Rewind: Henry Steele Commager (1974)

    Back in 1974, on the first season of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with American historian Henry Steele Commager about the Presidency, impeachment, and the Constitution, on the the eve of Nixon's resignation. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

    Click here to watch this interview in its entirety. To watch Bill Moyers recent impeachment panel featuring conservative scholar Bruce Fein and journalist John Nichols, click here.

    We invite you to respond by commenting below.

    August 27, 2007

    Alberto Gonzales Resigns; Why Now?

    Alberto Gonzales announced today that effective September 17, he would step down as Attorney General. THE NEW YORK TIMES writes that his "tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress," and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL remarks that his resignation ended "a monthslong standoff over his honesty and competence at the helm of the Justice Department...Republicans and Democrats alike had demanded his resignation over the botched handling of FBI terror investigations and the firings of U.S. attorneys."

    For more information about Gonzales and the U.S. Attorney controversy, watch this piece from BILL MOYERS JOURNAL featuring Josh Marshall from, which aired April 27, 2007.

  • Why do you think Attorney General Gonzales resigned at this juncture?
  • What implications, if any, does the resignation have on the remainder of the Bush Presidency and the upcoming presidential election?

  • August 15, 2007

    Story Update: Alaskan Pork

    Taxpayers for Common Sense, an earmark watchdog group recently featured on THE JOURNAL, has helped bring to light, with the Associated Press, alleged earmark abuses by prominent Alaskan legislators, Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. From the AP article:

    More than 2,000 projects worth $7.5 billion have gone to Alaska since 2000, says Taxpayers for Common Sense. Alaska received a little over $1 billion in the 2005 highway bill.

    A 2005-2007 study of earmarks by the group showed that Alaska _ ranked 47th in population _ has done far better than other states, when spending is calculated per person. Spending over the three-year period came to $4,311 per person in earmarked projects for Alaskans, while Hawaii was a distant second at $1,812. At the low end were the populous states of Texas, at $98 per person, and New York, $95 per person.

    Part of the difference can be explained by Alaska's special needs, with its remote geography, rough terrain and extreme weather. But the clout of Stevens and Young also has played a huge role.

    According to the AP, some of these 2000 earmark projects included:

    • $500,000 to the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, which used some of these funds to paint a Boeing 737 to look like a Chinook Salmon.
    • $1 million was set aside for mobile computers for police cars in Wasilla, Alaska, which has a population of 6,700.
    • $435,000 went to the Alaska Christian College in 2005, which had several dozen students at the time.

    For an interactive map detailing earmark allocation by state, compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, click here.

    August 8, 2007

    Impeachment: The Conversation Continues

    The tremendous response from our recent impeachment panel broadcast tells us this is a conversation that is important to you. Here are a few of the thousands responses we've been receiving:

    Ethel, July 13, 2007:

    After watching tonight's Bill Moyers program, I think for the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful. There is a solution! For the last five years, I have been watching and listening and feeling rather isolated in my frustration and disgust. Impeachment is the solution for this federal insanity.

    Carol Taylor, July 14, 2007:

    Thank you Mr. Moyers for the re-education about the Constitution. I have already written to Nancy Pelosi. This program is just what we need to hear.

    Lee Partide, July 14, 2007:

    One sided and misleading. Bill Moyers is a good presenter and very smooth, but what is frightening is the power he and the media exercise by presenting information that neglects so many facts, and does not present rebuttal by the myriad others who can refute claims made on this show, and point out their dangers. I am NO Bush fan, but your show edges on appalling by misrepresentations. One can see how far this has gone by reading how many people in media (and thus among the population) compare Bush to such people as Hitler. That kind of extremism presented under the guise of objective journalism is what is MOST scary in our culture.

    SR, July 15, 2007:

    I am not nearly as articulate as your bloggers, however, I was compelled to say something...I was raised to respect our leaders, our elders and one another. To trust in our government and have faith in our religion...What has happened to the America we once knew?...We the American people can no LONGER hide our heads in the sand-- we cannot rely on our political leaders to help us out of this peril...Thank you SO MUCH for airing this show.

    Ken, July 14, 2007:

    I just caught the end of your show waiting for the British comedies to come on. What a bunch of crap! The democrats don't have the guts to stop the war or impeach Bush or Cheney. What congress should do is remove public funding for this show and send it to the troops in the war.

    We invite you to continue to the conversation by commenting below.

    Poll: Civil Liberties and National Security

    Constitutional scholar, Bruce Fein states:

    “Most important thing for the American people to know is that the great genius of the founding fathers, their revolutionary idea, with the chief mission of the state is to make you and them free to pursue their ambitions and faculties. Not to build empires, not to aggrandize government. That's the mission of the state, to make them free, chart their own destiny. And the burden is on the government to try to understand why that freedom has to be curtailed for a security purpose or otherwise.”

    Photo: Robin Holland

    Answer our poll question, then debate the topic below.

    August 6, 2007

    Buying the War, Again?

    Four months since our original broadcast of Buying the War and more than four years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, has the media's coverage of the Iraq war changed?

    As President Bush continues to declare that Iraq has become the main battleground in the war on terror, NEW YORK TIMES public editor Clark Hoyt recently wrote a column criticizing the coverage of his paper, that it has not delved far enough into the intricacies of the enemy in Iraq:

    Why Bush and the military are emphasizing al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.

    But these are stories you haven’t been reading in THE TIMES in recent weeks as the newspaper has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about al Qaeda’s role in Iraq - and sometimes citing the group itself without attribution.

    And in using the language of the administration, the newspaper has also failed at times to distinguish between al Qaeda, the group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, and al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an Iraqi group that didn’t even exist until after the American invasion.

    Oliver North, who has made 8 trips to Iraq with FOX News, agrees that most media outlets are not reporting the Iraq war accurately, but in a different way:

    For nearly two years, the potentates of the press have been slavishly following liberal dogma and telling us that the war in Iraq is all but lost; that the region will never embrace democracy and that young Americans serving there are dying needlessly. Even before the “troop surge” was underway, they were telling us that it wouldn’t work. And since the final contingent of 28,500 additional troops arrived in theater two months ago most members of the Fourth Estate have tried to convince us that it has failed. Some of them may even believe it, but that doesn’t make it true.

    What do you think?

    -Is the media sufficiently reporting the truth about the war on the ground?
    -Where do you turn for the latest information and analysis about the Iraq War?

    Want to read the original blog discussion that helped to merit this rebroadcast? Click here.

    July 27, 2007

    Why Earmarks Matter

    by Ryan Alexander, President of Taxpayers for Common Sense

    At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we believe that the impact of earmarks is greater than the billions of dollars they cost the federal treasury. With a federal budget close to $3 trillion, we know that earmarks are not the only source of government waste. But the earmarking process is a breakdown in democratic decision-making in the Congress. We are putting the unprecedented amount of power to direct billions of dollars of projects in the hands of very small group of legislators and lobbyists. The all-consuming chase for earmarks distracts Congress and takes time away from important policy debates.

    This year alone, there were more than 30,000 requests for earmarks in the House of Representatives – all of which had to be reviewed by staff on the Appropriations Committee. That’s a tremendous amount of effort and time to bring $100,000 for a theater renovation or $150,000 for Robotics Training Equipment at a local community college to a local congressional district. Don’t get me wrong, these and other projects may deserve federal support, but most of us don’t get a chance to ask why these projects are better than others or why they should be funded first before other projects. The lack of a competitive or a meritorious process means that projects may be ignored in favor of those backed by the politically powerful.

    Continue reading "Why Earmarks Matter" »

    July 13, 2007

    Bill Moyers Essay: The War Debate

    Click the picture above to watch Bill Moyers' essay on the ongoing war debate in Congress.

    Then tell us what you think by commenting below.

    July 3, 2007

    Story Updates: Libby, Eagles, Trade and more

    Libby Sentence Commuted: Reaction to President Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence was rapid. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. announced that he will be holding a full committee hearing next week titled, "The Use and Misuse of Presidential Clemency Power for Executive Branch Officials." After President Clinton pardoned 140 people on his last day in office, Congressional leadership held similar hearings entitled, "Proposals to amend the president’s power to grant reprieves and pardons." Read an excerpt from testimony here.

    Read more about the issues surrounding the case and continue the conversation.

    Watch Bill Moyers' recent essay entitled, "Begging his Pardon"

    "We have yet another remarkable revelation of the mindset of Washington's ruling clique of neoconservative elites—the people who took us to war from the safety of their Beltway bunkers. Even as Iraq grows bloodier by the day, their passion of the week is to keep one of their own from going to jail."

    Watch Bill Moyers interview with Ambassador Joseph Wilson from NOW with Bill Moyers, February 28, 2003. It was the release of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent which led to the Libby trial.

    "Somehow it's hard for me to imagine that a democratic system will emerge out of the ashes of Iraq in the near term. And when and if it does, it's hard for me to believe that it will be more pro-American and more pro-Israeli than what you've got now," says Joseph Wilson in his interview.

    More about Plamegate and Judith Miller from BUYING THE WAR.

    Continue reading "Story Updates: Libby, Eagles, Trade and more" »

    June 2, 2007

    From Public Citizen's Joan Claybrook

    I was thrilled to join Bill Moyers this week on his show, and I welcome a dialogue about a problem that impacts every issue today: the corrupting influence of big-money congressional lobbyists.

    When corporate lobbyists raise campaign cash or help lawmakers get lucrative lobbying jobs after leaving office, the democratic system is corrupted. It's also expensive. Lobbyists throw their financial weight around Congress to get tax breaks, contracts, loan guarantees, subsidies and regulatory cutbacks for their corporate clients. Meanwhile, those of us with legitimate concerns about drug safety, global warming and high gas prices have trouble being heard at all.

    The scandals brought on by the criminal relationship between lobbyist Jack Abramoff and members of Congress * like Tom DeLay and Bob Ney * toppled Republicans in 2006. The Democrats came to power on the promise of draining the swamp and ending the culture of corruption.

    So where are we now?

    We are still fighting for some very modest reforms for transparency in the way that lobbyists and members of Congress conduct business. (

    The lobby and ethics reform bills passed by the Senate and House ( will be joined in a conference committee when Congress returns to work next week. At least one critical reform found in the stronger Senate bill may be in jeopardy: slowing the "revolving door." This refers to the practice of former lawmakers taking high-paying lobbying jobs after leaving Congress, hired because they know the system and have special access to ask former colleagues for favors.

    Under the current law, public officials are prohibited only from "direct" lobbying * and only for one year after office. This means that former lawmakers can run lobbying campaigns for clients as soon as they leave Congress * as long as they don't pick up the phone or meet personally with a lawmaker. This is completely inadequate.

    However, the Senate lobbying reform bill (S. 1) restricts all lobbying activity * not just "contacts" * for two years for lawmakers and senior executive branch officials. Former senior Congressional staffers would be prohibited from making lobbying "contacts" with Congress for one year. This would be a big improvement. Unfortunately, the House bill does not have the same reforms. Our goal is to keep the Senate provisions in the final bill. (

    What are your thoughts? Have you or your family been harmed by big-money politics? What do you think the solution is?

    -Joan Claybrook, president, Public Citizen

    May 30, 2007

    Preview: Cleaning House

    Watch the video

    Friday, June 1 at 9pm on Bill Moyers Journal, one of Washington's most influential public advocates, Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen, talks about what is at stake in the ethical reforms under consideration in Congress.

    A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

    Your Comments


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