Reforming Government: Congressional Republicans Haven't Changed & Can't Bring the Change We Need

Later today, House Republican Leader John Boehner will be giving a speech on “Congressional Reform and the People’s House” at the American Enterprise Institute.   We are interested to hear what Rep. Boehner has to say, but given the track record of Congressional Republicans over the past two years and the lack of real reform in their new agenda, we sincerely hope we’ll hear some substantive proposals this time around.   But please excuse us for being more than a little skeptical that this is anything other than a brief election year conversion.  One thing is already clear: they haven’t changed, so they won’t bring the change we need.  Despite their talk about ending “backroom deals” and their promises of transparency, Congressional Republicans have repeatedly shown that they still pay more attention to lobbyists than they do to the American people.   

When Rep. Boehner and his House Republican colleagues unveiled their “Pledge to America” last week, one of the document’s most striking omissions was its lack of a plan to increase disclosure and curb the influence of special interest lobbyists.    Unfortunately, this omission didn’t come as a surprise to us.  While the Congressional Republican agenda was supposed to be the result of the people “speaking out,” it turned out to be the product of special interests speaking quietly.  In fact, when House Republicans were putting together the “Pledge,” Rep. Boehner invited a group of high-powered lobbyists and corporate insiders to help craft the agenda at a secret, closed door meeting.   After the invitation was leaked to the press, House Republicans bowed to pressure and broadcasted the meeting over the web, insisting that the webcast was an example of the kind of transparency they want in Washington.  But the Pledge makes clear that they haven’t learned their lesson.  Nowhere in the document is there any mention of steps they would take to improve disclosure and reduce the influence of high-powered lobbyists and special interests.  In fact, on the day they released their agenda, we learned that the Pledge itself was written with the help of a former lobbyist for Big Oil and other special interests.

If Congressional Republicans are interested in reform, we suggest that they take a look at some of the unprecedented steps we have taken over the past two years to increase transparency in the executive branch – steps that have made this Administration the most transparent in history.  They include releasing White House visitor records; tough new rules that close the revolving door for lobbyists who work in government; expanded disclosure of lobbyist contacts with the government; posting more government information than ever before on data.gov and recovery.gov; reforming the government’s FOIA processes, providing on-line access to White House staff financial reports and salaries; reversing an executive order that previously limited access to presidential records; and web-casting White House meetings and conferences.  And we’d remind Rep. Boehner that when Democrats took control of Congress in 2007, they passed landmark ethics reforms that required disclosure of earmark sponsors and lobbyists’ campaign contributions, banned gifts from lobbyists and paid travel on corporate jets, and took important steps towards closing the revolving door in Congress. 

These efforts represent a belief that our government belongs to the American People.  We hope Republicans feel the same way about Congress, but they still need to prove that they don’t think it belongs to the special interests.  Until they show they are committed to serious reform and change their own way of doing business, they won’t change the way Washington works.

Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director
Related Topics: Ethics
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