‘Licking Their Chops’ on K Street and Capitol Hill

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The public’s disgust with Congress has been confirmed in poll after poll; Americans are fed up with the combination of partisan squabbling and inertia that since last year has led to little or nothing accomplished. Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN on Tuesday, “I think that the 11 percent of Americans who think we’re doing a good job need therapy.”

Several reports in the last day or two may finally convince that remaining 11 percent to head to the analyst’s couch. A headline in the congressional newspaper The Hill announces, “K Street Headhunters Enamored with Upcoming Class of Retiring Lawmakers.” Lobby shops and law firms in DC are scouting the talent and formulating their “mock draft” as at least 25 representatives and senators have announced their plans to leave office at the end of their current terms.

The paper’s Kevin Bogardus writes, “The retiring class includes lawmakers who are known for their bipartisan ties, and others who have spent decades on Capitol Hill accruing seniority on powerful committees. That mix of attributes has many on K Street licking their chops…

“Former senators could expect to earn somewhere between $800,000 and $1.5 million in annual salary next year at lobby firms, while ex-House members could earn between $300,000 and $600,000, headhunters estimated.”

And far be it from us to begrudge anyone else their benefits, but teeth may grind with the realization that in addition to the big salaries retired legislators pull down as Washington rainmakers, many of them also are among the 15,000 former federal employees receiving annual, six-figure pensions. Bloomberg News reports that according to the Office of Personnel Management, “They include former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt ($106,512 for 28 years of work as a Missouri Democratic congressman); Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle ($105,804 for 33 years as a South Dakota Democratic lawmaker); Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole ($144,432 for 40 years as a Kansas Republican lawmaker); and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott ($110,352 after 39 years as a Republican lawmaker from Mississippi).”

The list also names former Vice President Dick Cheney (his 28 years as veep, Wyoming congressman, Secretary of Defense and White House chief of staff entitle him to a yearly $125,976) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (twenty years in Congress bring him an annual $100,200). Bloomberg News notes without comment that Gingrich “has argued as a Republican presidential candidate that government employees ought to shoulder more of the burden for planning their retirements.”

What’s also disturbing is how congressional ethics reforms put into place following the Jack Abramoff scandals are falling by the wayside. That other congressional newspaper, Roll Call, has a story that last year outside groups spent nearly $6 million sending members of Congress and staff members on more than 1500 trips: “Watchdog groups say the nearly $2.5 million increase from the year before is a sign that the travel restrictions adopted as part of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 are no longer working — and there seems to be little willingness or initiative among the Members on the House Ethics Committee to revisit the rules.”

National Journal reports that congressional members are increasingly using access to their staff members as a fundraising tool. “It becomes more brazen every year,” Meredith McGehee of the public interest Campaign Legal Center says. “Something that was once considered both a violation of ethics and in bad taste – now it is pretty commonplace.”

And this, a report from the US Public Interest Research Group and Citizens for Tax Justice on “The Dirty Thirty” — corporations “especially aggressive at dodging taxes and lobbying Congress.” You can read it here:

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