Bennet: Washington Has It Wrong, But We Can Make It RightMarch 3, 2010
Unveils ‘Plan for Washington Reform' - Takes Aim At Outsized Influence of Lobbyists and Special Interests on Political Process
Would Also Reform Senate Rules that Impede Progress, Force Members of Congress to Live By Same Rules as American People
Washington, DC - With the U.S. Senate paralyzed by partisan gridlock that has all but upended efforts to make real progress for the American people, Michael Bennet today unveiled a sweeping set of legislative reforms that will help fix the worst parts of a broken Washington.
Bennet's Plan for Washington Reform will limit increases in salaries of Members of Congress; end Federal health insurance benefits for Members of Congress until they have passed health insurance reform; usher in sweeping changes that will limit Members of Congress and their staffs from becoming lobbyists; institute reform that will provide more transparency and accountability in the earmarking process; reform the filibuster rule in a responsible and practical way; and implement new rules for campaign finance.
"Before going to the Senate just a year ago, I'd spent my life in the real world -- the world of business, of local government, of public schools, and most important, family," said Bennet. "But since going to Washington I've discovered that career politicians learn to live in an entirely different world, an echo chamber shut off from the reality of life in America that defies common sense at every turn, and uses the Senate's rules to defy the rule of reason."
Bennet continued, "The United States Senate needs a big dose of Colorado common sense. But Washington can't get out of its own way, much less our way. That is why I'm introducing a bill that will end lobbyist abuses, reform the ways of the Senate, stop the outd influence of special interests, and put Washington to work for the American people."
Bennet's package comes on the heels of an effort by one senator to block action on a proposal to extend unemployment and COBRA benefits for Americans who have been out of work for many months. Earlier this year, one senator stalled action on the confirmation of well-qualified nominees for federal posts to secure federal dollars to fund pet projects in his home state.
Specifically, Bennet's Plan for Washington Reform would:
Salaries, Spending, and Perk
- Freeze congressional member pay until there are 4 quarters of job growth
- Freeze congressional office budgets until there are 4 quarters of job growth
- End Federal health insurance benefits for Members of Congress unless health care reform passes that eliminates discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, increases coverage, doesn't cut guaranteed Medicare benefits, and is paid for
- Require full payment for the seat and disclose of those traveling with a Member of Congress on a charter jet
- Put a lifetime ban on Members of Congress becoming lobbyists
- Ban congressional staff from lobbying their former boss for 6 years
- Ban former committee staff from lobbying their former boss or any member of the committee who was active during their time on staff for 6 years
- Ban lobbyists from joining congressional staff or committee staff for 6 years
- Create stricter rules for lobbyist registration
- Institute penalties for failing to register as a lobbyist
- Ban earmarks to private, for-profit companies and institutions.
- Make earmarks transparent
- Members of Congress must report all earmark requests they receive and all earmarks requests made
- Earmarks.gov should list all earmarks requests, sortable by member of Congress
- Hold Members of Congress accountable on earmark requests
- All earmark requests above $1 million should go before the Appropriations Committee
- Hold earmarks recipients accountable
- Each year, a certain percent of all earmarks will be audited to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent wisely. These reports should be made public on earmarks.gov
Reform the Floor
- Eliminate anonymous holds
- Require holds to be bipartisan. If not, the hold expires in 2 days. Even bi-partisan holds expire in 30 days.
- Reform the filibuster in the Senate
- After 3rd failed cloture vote, the minority must find a member of the opposite party or the threshold raises to 45 votes.
- After the 3rd cloture vote, if the majority finds support from three members of the minority, it raises to 45 votes.
- End the filibuster for motion to proceed
- Require 41 Senators to show up to vote in order to block cloture, or else it's invoked
Campaign Finance Reform
- Support the Schumer/Van Hollen campaign finance bill, which would require Chief Executive Officers to stand by their ads, quick disclosure and sunshine rules, restrictions on foreign corporations and TARP recipients, and codifying coordination rules.
- Support a constitutional amendment allowing Congress to regulate contributions and expenditures.
Earlier today, Bennet delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate on the Plan for Washington Reform. The full text of Bennet's remarks is included below:
Before coming to the senate a little over a year ago, I had spent my life in the real world, the world of business, of local government, of public schools, and most important of all of family, but since coming to Washington, I have discovered that many people learn to live in an entirely different world, an echo chamber shut off from the reality of life in America that defies common sense at every turn and uses anonymous holds to defy the rule of reason. I used to tell my little girls that "Alice In Wonderland" was just a fairy tale, but now I'm not so sure. if you come from the real world, when you get to Washington to Wonderland, the logic can seen upside-down or inside out or just plain wrong.
Here it turns out that folks attack you when you don't cut back room deals at the taxpayers' expense. Here a lot of people seem to think that saying they are for doing something, like extending unemployment benefits or passing a jobs bill, is exactly the same thing as actually rolling up your sleeves and getting it done. They think that blaming failure on their opponents is the same thing as fighting for real change. Mr. President, Coloradans and Americans are reading their papers and watching their televisions, and what they see drives them nuts. and it should, because all they find are talking heads yelling at each other on cable news and cynical, reckless partisanship paralyzing their government.
This phony political conversation won't do when we need real change, but Washington can't seem to get out of its own way, and that is why I will introduce legislation to end lobbyists' abuses, reform the ways of the Senate, stop the outside influence of special interests, and put Washington to work for the people of Colorado.
First we need to hold Congress accountable. We should freeze the pay and office budgets of every member of Congress until we have four quarters of job growth. Our salaries and office budgets should not go up when the rest of the country is struggling. And members of Congress should lose their taxpayer funded health insurance until we pass health insurance reform. If congress can't get its act together on health care, then the American people shouldn't subsidize health care for Congress. that goes for Democrats and Republicans. It turns out that dysfunction in Washington is just another kind of pre-existing condition that allows the insurance companies to get their way.
Second, we need real lobbying reform that restores power to the voters. We need to ban members of Congress from becoming lobbyists when they leave office. We need to do something about the revolving door between Congress and K street. We need stronger rules and tighter standards for lobbyists registration and real penalties for those who break the rules, and we need to end the corporate subsidy for members of Congress who fly on corporate jets. Every member of Congress should pay their fair share and disclose every person who is on the plane with them.
Third, real reform will not be complete without earmark reform. The people of Colorado pay taxes and they deserve a government that works for them. I have no issue with members of Congress fighting for projects they think are valuable for their state or for their district. I'm proud, for example, of the funding we secured for projects like the Arkansas Valley Conduit, which languished, languished in the Senate since President Kennedy first promised it to the people of Colorado. But this funding should be done in the light of day, completely transparent and accountable, not behind closed doors, hidden from the American people.
Under my legislation, members of Congress will be required to post every earmark request they receive and every request they make for funding, and we shouldn't wait for the law to change. There is no reason to wait for the law to change. we can start doing this now.
Second, every earmark should be listed at earmarks.gov. the website should be easily searchable and user friendly. third, members of congress should be held accountable for their requests. Larger earmark requests should go before the Appropriations Committee, and we should end air drops of earmarks in conference committee. Finally, earmark recipients should be held accountable. This means randomly auditing earmarks every year and publishing the results for our constituents to see.
Next, we need to deal with the challenge of passing real campaign finance reform that reduces the outside influence of special interests. I intend to support the bill that Senator Schumer and Congressman Van Hollen are putting together and urge my colleagues to do the same. Finally, we need to reform the institution of the Senate itself. the filibuster has been used in the Senate for quite some time. It's been used by the minority to slow down debate, have their voices heard, and in some cases stall legislation. I would remind members of my own party that just the threat of a filibuster stopped the privatization of Social Security.
However, during this session of Congress, the right to filibuster has been abused. It has become a normal part of business, a way to stall every piece of legislation and simply slow the senate to a crawl. Three months ago, Mr. President, we spent weeks debating the extension of unemployment benefits. The bill passed 98-0. The senate has spent days, weeks and sometimes months holding up nominees that pass with more than 90 votes, and to add insult to injury, one Senator held up the entire senate, preventing us from extending unemployment benefits and COBRA. The country deserves much better than that.
I will introduce legislation that will reform Senate procedure to encourage the two parties to work together to get things done. it will eliminate anonymous holds. If senators want to single-handedly stop a nominee from being approved, then they should have the courage to do so publicly. It will introduce a new procedure to allow us to reduce the time of debate so that we can move on legislation that has broad bipartisan support. Third, it will eliminate the filibuster on the motion to proceed. It's one thing to try to block a piece of legislation. It's another thing to prevent it from even being debated in the first place.
And finally, my legislation would change the rules of the filibuster to force the two parties to actually talk to each other and not past each other. The president reminded us during the state of the union that our job is not to get elected, and I have heard the same thing from thousands of Coloradans in hundreds of living rooms and town halls. It's easy to throw our hands up in the air and wait for someone else to make the big changes we need, but we all know that the American people deserve better. I know the people of Colorado expect much more. They know that the United States Senate needs a big dose of Colorado common sense.
I know this is not easy. I know there are 100 different reasons, maybe a thousand different reasons some will say we can't get this done, but I also know our country needs a government that works for them. I hope my colleagues from both sides of the aisle will work with me and others to make sure we get it done.