TWO WORDS were conspicuously omitted from the House Republicans' "Contract With America": lobbying reform. As a result, the lawmakers who cut school lunches for children continue to enjoy their own free lunch on Capitol Hill.
In one of their first official actions, House Republicans gutted the school lunch program, which feeds more than 25 million needy children each school day. During 100 days of furious legislative action, however, Republicans failed to move an inch on simple reforms like a gift ban - which would end the freebies that members from both parties now receive from lobbyists.For four decades, Democrats were pilloried for perpetuating a campaign finance and lobbying system that gave power to incumbents and special interests at the expense of the general public. Now Republicans have shown that while they may have the heart to slash school lunches, they lack the stomach to clean up their own act.
At the top of a long list of hypocrites is House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., whose GOPAC political action committee raked in $487,520 in the first three months of this year. This comes in addition to the aborted $4.5 million book deal struck with a company owned by publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch, who has significant business before the Congress.
Perhaps someone should remind Gingrich of the statement he made just days before Republicans won the House on Nov. 8. Should he be elected speaker of the House, Gingrich said at the time, he was prepared "to pass a bill that bans lobbyists from dealing with members of Congress in terms of gifts."
A gift ban - unlike the so-called "reforms," which passed both houses of Congress in January - would actually accomplish something radical: It would change the way members of Congress conduct their daily lives. No more free meals from lobbyists. No more free tickets to sporting events or golf vacations.
"The only reason (gifts) aren't considered bribery is because Congress gets to say what bribery is," says Rep. Andrew Jacobs, D-Ind., an early supporter of congressional reform.
A gift ban last came up for debate in the waning moments of the 103rd Congress as part of a comprehensive bill to reform lobbying. But the entire bill was killed after Gingrich and company claimed it would curtail grass-roots lobbying.
As a backbench member of the House minority, Gingrich was fond of lashing out at the power of his peers. "Congress is a broken system," Gingrich said in 1990. "It is increasingly a system of corruption in which money politics is defeating and driving out citizen politics."
That statement would mean a lot more today if the "Contract With America" hadn't omitted two very important words.