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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Congress Simply Ignoring Calls

HERE is a game that congressional leaders play to de­’ feat popular measures like – cleaning up Congress. It is called the delay game. Congressional leaders love to bury bills this way because there are no fingerprints. Behold, like magic, the bills are stranded at the end of the congressional session. Here’s how the lip- service game works:

Early in the session, leadership will state they support a bill, but that Congress is too busy to pass it quite yet. They say, be patient. The legislation will be passed — some­time later. Maybe next year. Months pass, and the ill-fated bill still hasn’t gotten anywhere. Then at the end of session, the leaders say, with mock sadness, that the bill was a good one, but they just didn’t have time to get to it. It’s a ‘masterful trick.

That’s the trick that Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, are playing right now to protect their beloved system of business as usual in Washington. They’re burying reform. These are the facts:

Campaign finance reform: In June, Speaker Gingrich and President Clinton shook hands on the idea that they would create a bipartisan panel to develop a proposal for cleaning up the corruptive, permissive congressional campaign finance rules. Now it’s October, and Speaker Gingrich has yet to keep

his half of the promise. His lame excuse: he’ll produce a study “sometime this fall.” But what is there to study? The problem can be expressed in five words: too much money in politics.

Internet access to congressional documents: Here’s another broken promise from Gingrich: three days after the November 1994 elections, Gingrich said “we will change the rules of the House to require that all documents… be filed electroni­cally as well as in writing and that they cannot be filed until they are available to any citizen who wants to pull them up. Thus, information will be available to every citizen in the country at the same moment it is available to the highest paid Washington lobbyist.”

Eleven months later, that promise is buried under the army of corporate lobbyists who don’t want you to have the same access to congressional documents that they have.

Cuts in congressional pay and perks: Time for Congress to cut its own lard by slashing the over­generous $133,600 salaries for members of Congress. But while the GOP budget cutters hack away at the federal budget, House Bud­get Committee Chairman John Ka­sich blocked a Senate proposal to freeze congressional salaries for seven years. The GOP budget plans $270 billion in cuts for Medicare, but Members of Congress won’t even give up their free outpatient care at Bethesda or Walter Reed hospitals.

Gift reform: In July, the Senate passed new rules prohibiting Sena­tors and their staffs from accepting lavish vacations from lobbyists and others seeking influence and leg­islative favors.

But the House wants to keep its ‘ free meals and vacations. Maybe we should call Congress’ lower body the “House of Pleasure.” When House Majority Leader Armey was asked in October about the delay, the best excuse he could muster was “We continue to work with that… I cannot give you a timetable.”

The only way to break up the de­lay game is with citizen pressure. If you want to end business as usual in Washington, you’re going to have to tell your members of Congress that you’re onto them. No more de­lays. No more games. Time to pass these bills right now.