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Leaders Holding Ethics Bill

Wary that President Bush may use a pocket veto to kill an overhaul of ethics and lobbying rules — and thereby eliminate Congress’ ability to overturn him — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have indefinitely delayed sending the measure to the White House, Senate aides said.

Because Congress is in a month-long recess, Democrats are worried that Bush could decline to sign the bill in the constitutionally specified 10-day period, leaving lawmakers with no opportunity to overturn the pocket veto.

According to a Senate Democratic aide, talks at the staff level have begun between Congressional Democrats and the White House to determine whether Bush will in fact veto the measure.

Although a veto of the popular bill appears unlikely, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Friday that Democrats will hold off sending the ethics package to Bush until they are sure he will not block the measure. Reid and Pelosi are “waiting to get a better sense from the White House on whether they’re going to veto it,” Manley said.

If a veto is certain, Reid and Pelosi are expected to wait until Congress returns in September to send the bill to the White House so as to avoid a pocket veto and give Congress a chance to overturn the veto on a two-thirds vote. The lobbying and ethics package passed the Senate on an 83-14 vote and cleared the House 411-8.

A White House aide said late last week that while it was unclear whether Bush would veto the bill, the administration has a number of concerns with the legislation. For instance, Bush is unhappy with changes to Senate-specific earmark rules that conservatives say significantly weakened them. Additionally, the White House has taken umbrage at the fact that while a two-year lobbying ban is being imposed on Senate Members and staff and members of the executive branch, the House is only imposing a one-year ban on itself.

Bush also is concerned that new rules requiring federal candidates to pay the charter rate on flights used for campaigning would create a significant cost for the president, given the expense of operating Air Force One. The president currently pays the cost of a first-class ticket when using Air Force One for political purposes.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, warned that given public concern with corruption in Congress, Bush must sign the legislation. “There is absolutely no basis for President Bush to veto this landmark reform legislation and block Congress and the nation from addressing the corruption, lobbying and ethics scandals that have plagued Washington in recent years, right up until now,” Wertheimer said in a statement.

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