Mr. President. Over one
hundred years ago, at the dawn of the last century, the Industrial
Revolution was beginning to take hold of America, creating unimaginable
wealth in sprawling metropolises all across the country.
As factories multiplied
and profits grew, the winnings of the new economy became more and
more concentrated in the hands of a few robber barons, railroad
tycoons and oil magnates. In the cities, power was maintained by
a corrupt system of political machines and ward bosses. And in the
state of New York, there was a young governor who was determined
to give government back to the people.
In just his first year,
he had already begun to antagonize the state's political machine
by attacking its system of favors and corporate giveaways. He also
signed a workers' compensation bill, and even fired the superintendent
of insurance for taking money from the very industry he was supposed
to be regulating.
None of this sat too well
with New York's powerful party boss, who finally plotted to get
rid of the reform-minded governor by making sure he was nominated
for the Vice Presidency that year.
What no one could have
expected is that soon after the election, when President William
McKinley was assassinated, the greatest fears of the corrupt machine
bosses and powerbrokers came true when that former governor became
President of the United States and went on to bust trusts, break
up monopolies, and return the government to its people.
His name, of course, was
Theodore Roosevelt. He was a Republican. And throughout his public
life, he demonstrated a willingness to put party and politics aside
in order to battle corruption and give people an open, honest government
that would fight for their interests and uphold their values.
Today, we face a similar
crisis of corruption. And I believe that we need similar leadership
from those in power as well.
The American people are
tired of a Washington that's only open to those with the most cash
and the right connections. They're tired of a political process
where the vote you cast isn't as important as the favors you can
do. And they're tired of trusting us with their tax dollars when
they see them spent on frivolous pet projects and corporate giveaways.
It's not that the games
that are played in this town are new or surprising to the public.
People are not naive to
the existence of corruption and they know it has worn the face of
both Republicans and Democrats over the years.
Moreover, the underlying
issue of how extensively money influences politics is the original
sin of everyone who's ever run for office - myself included. In
order to get elected, we need to raise vast sums of money by meeting
and dealing with people who are disproportionately wealthy. This
is a problem that predates Jack Abramoff.
I agree with those on both
sides of the aisle who believe that we shouldn't let half-measures
and partisan posturing on campaign finance reform derail our current
efforts on ethics and lobbying, but I also think this is an issue
and a conversation we must have in the months to come.
Yet, while people know
that both parties are vulnerable to these problems, I do think it's
fair to say that the scandals we've seen under the current White
House and Congress - both legal and illegal - are far worse than
most of us could have imagined.
Think about it. In the
past several months, we've seen the head of the White House procurement
office arrested. We've seen some of our most powerful leaders of
both the House and the Senate under federal investigation. We've
seen the indictment of Jack Abramoff and his cronies. And of course,
last week, we saw a member of Congress sentenced to eight years
in prison for bribery.
Now, some have dismissed
these scandals by saying that "everybody does it." Well,
not everybody does it. And people shouldn't lump together those
of us who have to raise funds to run campaigns but do so in a legal
and ethical way with those who invite lobbyists in to write bad
legislation. Those aren't equivalent, and we're not being partisan
by pointing that out.
The fact is, since our
federal government has been controlled by one political party, this
kind of scandal has become the regular order of business in this
For years now, some on
the other side of the aisle have openly bragged about stocking K
Street lobbying firms with former staffers to increase their power
in Washington, a practice that should stop today and never happen
But what's truly offensive
to the American people about all of this goes far beyond people
like Jack Abramoff. It's bigger than how much time he'll spend in
jail or how many members of Congress he'll turn in. Bigger than
the K Street project and golf junkets to Scotland and lavish gifts
What's truly offensive
about these scandals is that they don't just lead to morally offensive
conduct on the part of politicians; they lead to morally offensive
legislation that hurts hardworking Americans.
When big oil companies
are invited into the White House for secret energy meetings, it's
no wonder they end up with billions in tax breaks while most working
people struggle to fill up their gas tanks and heat their homes.
When a Committee Chairman
negotiates a Medicare bill one day and then negotiates for a job
with the drug industry the next, it's hardly a surprise that that
industry gets taxpayer-funded giveaways in the same bill that forbids
seniors from bargaining for better drug prices.
When the people running
Washington are accountable only to the special interests that fund
their campaigns, it's not shocking that the American people find
their tax dollars being spent with reckless abandon.
Since George Bush took
office, we've seen the number of registered lobbyists in Washington
double. In 2004, over $2.1 billion was spent lobbying Congress.
That amounts to over $4.8 million per Member of Congress.
How much do you think the
American people were able to spend on their Senators or Representatives
last year? How much money could the folks who can't fill up their
gas tanks spend? How much could the seniors forced to choose between
their medications and their groceries spend?
Not $4.8 million. Not even
This is the bigger story
here. The American people believe that the well-connected CEOs and
hired guns on K Street who've helped write our laws have gotten
what they paid for. They got all the tax breaks and loopholes and
access they could ever want. But outside this city, the people who
can't afford the high-priced lobbyists and don't want to break the
law are wondering, "When is it our turn? When will someone
in Washington stand up for me?"
We need to answer that
call. Because while only some are to blame for the corruption that
has plagued this city, all are responsible for fixing it.
As you know, I'm from Chicago
- a city that hasn't always had the cleanest reputation when it
comes to politics in this country. But during my first year in the
Illinois State Senate, I helped lead the fight to pass Illinois'
first ethics reform bill in twenty-five years. I hope we can do
something like that here.
But we have to pass a serious
bill, and it has to go a long way towards correcting some of the
most egregious offenses of the last few years and preventing future
offenses as well. This is not a time for window-dressing or putting
a band-aid on a problem just to score political points. This is
a time for real reform. I think the Honest Leadership and Open Government
Act, which has 41 cosponsors, established the right marker for reform,
and I commend Senator Harry Reid and his staff for their hard work
in putting it together.
Real reform means making
sure that Members of Congress and senior Administration officials
wait until they leave office before pursuing jobs with industries
they're responsible for regulating.
Billy Tauzin may say he
wasn't negotiating for a job with the drug industry at the same
time he was negotiating the Medicare bill, but the fact is this:
while he was a Member of Congress, he was negotiating for lobbying
jobs with not one, but two different industries that he was responsible
for regulating: the drug industry and the motion picture association.
That's wrong, and that shouldn't happen anymore.
Real reform means ensuring
that a ban on lobbying after members of Congress leave office is
real and includes the behind the scenes coordination and supervision
activities now used to skirt the ban.
Real reform means giving
the public access to now-secret conference committee meetings and
posting all bills on the Internet at least a day before they're
voted on, so the public can scrutinize what's in them.
Real reform means passing
a bill that eliminates all gifts and meals from lobbyists, not just
the expensive ones.
And real reform must mean
real enforcement. Because no matter how many new rules we pass,
it will mean very little unless you have a system to enforce them.
I commend Senators Lieberman
and Collins for their efforts to create such an enforcement mechanism
through an independent Office of Public Integrity. While this proposal
doesn't go quite as far as my proposal for an outside ethics fact-finding
commission, it's still very good, and I will work with them to try
to get it included in this bill.
But to truly earn back
the people's trust - to show them that we're working for them and
looking out for their interests - we have to do more than just pass
a good bill this week. We have to fundamentally change the way we
do business around here.
That means instead of meeting
with lobbyists, it's time to start meeting with some of the 45 million
Americans with no health care.
Instead of finding cushy
political jobs for unqualified buddies, it's time to start finding
good-paying jobs for hardworking Americans trying to raise a family.
Instead of hitting up the
big firms on K Street, it's time to start visiting the workers on
Main Street who wonder how they'll send their kids to college or
whether their pension will be around when they retire.
All these people have done
to earn access and gain influence is cast their ballot. But in this
democracy, it's all anyone should have to do.
A century ago, that young,
reform-minded governor of New York who later became our twenty-sixth
President gave us words about our country everyone in this town
would do well to listen to today. Teddy Roosevelt said that,
"No republic can permanently
endure when its politics are corrupt and base...we can afford to
differ on the currency, the tariff, and foreign policy, but we cannot
afford to differ on the question of honesty. There is a soul in
the community, a soul in the nation, just exactly as there is a
soul in the individual; and exactly as the individual hopelessly
mars himself if he lets his conscience be dulled by the constant
repetition of unworthy acts, so the nation will hopelessly blunt
the popular conscience if it permits its public men continually
to do acts which the nation in its heart of hearts knows are acts
which cast discredit upon our whole public life."
I hope that this week,
we in the Senate will take the first step towards strengthening
this nation's soul and bringing credit back to our public life.