Obama Presses Congress on Ethics

Posted January 21, 2009 at 4:29pm

President Barack Obama is promising to press Congress to improve its ethics procedures and enhance transparency, though it is not clear how he will be able to mandate Congressional change from the White House. The new White House Web site includes an ethics-reform section heavy on Congressional transparency. Obama will “use the power of the presidency to fight for an independent watchdog agency to oversee the investigation of congressional ethics violations so that the public can be assured that ethics complaints will be investigated,” the Web site says. In the last Congress, the House established an ethics office that meets these criteria; the Senate declined to do the same. In addition, “Obama’s Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act will shed light on all earmarks by disclosing the name of the legislator who asked for each earmark, along with a written justification, 72 hours before they can be approved by the full Senate.” The Senate does not currently require a justification for earmarks, only a certification that the requesting Senator has no financial conflict of interest. The White House also promises that Obama “will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American people an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.” This reform is described as necessary because “too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them.” Asked which of Obama’s proposals Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would support, spokesman Jim Manley said: “We are going to continue to do everything we can to provide a more open and transparent government. … We have done a lot of this.” Obama’s calls for all markups to be public, earmarks to be disclosed and new investigation authorities to be created would all require approval by Congress, and there has been no indication from Democratic leaders that they intend to introduce another ethics reform package in the 111th Congress.