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Obama’s Budget Pushes Hill on Ethics

President Barack Obama indicated on Thursday that he will press Congress to take up additional ethics reforms, calling for new earmark and lobbying disclosures in his fiscal 2010 budget proposal. According to the budget overview, the Obama administration will press for a “centralized, online database” for lobbying reports and a “searchable public website” for earmarks, detailing the projects and their Congressional sponsors. “Washington cannot be responsive to the American people if the doors of Government are shut to everyone except those with lobbyists and influence,” the administration’s budget overview states. The document goes on to acknowledge ethics reforms enacted in the 110th Congress, but describes those changes as insufficient. “In 2007 and 2008, the Congress took important steps to shine light on the allocation of congressional earmarks by requiring members’ names to be listed next to requests funded in appropriations bills and reports, while also reducing the total funding for earmarks,” the document states. “However, more work needs to be done. The Administration will continue to work with the Congress to provide greater transparency and accountability of earmarks, and to ensure that the American people are made well aware of how and where federal money is spent.” But it may be difficult for Obama to mandate Congressional change from the White House, particularly when neither House nor Senate leaders have indicated a desire to return to potentially difficult ethics reforms. A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in an e-mail: “Under the New Direction Congress, we have taken unprecedented steps to decrease the number of earmarks and increase transparency and accountability. We look forward to working with the Obama Administration on this critical issue.” A Senate leadership aide said Democratic leaders are considering the proposals, but declined to otherwise comment. The Obama administration scrubbed a series of ethics reform proposals from the White House Web site in January — including a call for the Senate to create an independent ethics oversight office. The site’s page dedicated to ethics remains largely empty, with a message advising visitors the “ethics section is currently being revised.” In addition to the ethics office, the White House had also called for public markups of legislation and new earmark disclosure guidelines. Both the January proposals and those included in Thursday’s budget release include a vow from the president to wait five days before enacting any non-emergency legislation to “give the public” time to review those bills.

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