I rise today in support of Senator Feingold's amendment
to eliminate a loophole in this bill that would still allow members
and staff to receive free meals from lobbyists up to $50 in value.
Now, of all the ethics reforms we take up this week,
this should be an easy one. Because I can't think of a single reason
in the world why we shouldn't be paying for our own lunches in Washington.
In cities and towns all across America, people pay
for their own lunches and their own dinners. People who make far
less than we do. People who can't afford their medical bills or
their mortgages or their kids' tuition.
You ask them if they think that the people they
send to Congress should be able to rack up a $50 meal on a lobbyists'
dime. You ask them if they think we should be able feast on free
steak dinners at fancy restaurants while they're working two jobs
just to put food on their table.
I don't think we need to put a poll in the field
to find out the answer to that one.
Now, in no way do I think that any of my colleagues
or staffers would exchange votes for meals. But that's not the point.
It's not just the meal that's the problem, it's the perception.
It's the access that meal gets you.
In the current Washington culture, lobbyists are
expected to pick up the tab when they meet with members or staff.
It is simply understood by all sides that the best way to get face
time with a member or staffer in order to express your ideas on
legislation is to buy them a meal.
But you don't see many members eating $50 meals
with constituents who are in town to talk about the issues on their
mind or with policy experts who are discussing the latest economic
theories. Most of these meals are with high-priced lobbyists who
are advocating on behalf of a specific interest. The appearance
is that they can afford the access, so they get it.
This culture has been around for some time, but
it wasn't always that way. One of the first reforms that Newt Gingrich
passed when the Republicans took control of the House in 1995 was
an absolute gift and meal ban. During the debates on this subject,
then-Speaker Gingrich said, "The simplest, the cleanest and
the clearest standard is to say, 'No gifts'. There's no way around
it. You didn't get the gift before you were elected. You ain't gonna
get the gift after you leave."
Newt Gingrich was right. He was right then, and
he's right today. The only reason members and staff are receiving
these free meals is because of who they are. That's not the way
we should be doing business in this town - and that's why we should
bring the ban back.
This isn't about preventing us from interacting
with lobbyists who have legitimate business to discuss, and it isn't
about preventing staff from getting the information they need to
help us pass better policy. We can still do all of this if the ban
passes, and we can even do it over lunch or dinner.
All we're asking here is to take out your wallet,
pull out your credit card, and pay for your own meal. Everyone else
in this country does it - we can do it too.
The American people will be watching and reading
about what we do here today. Eating expensive steak dinners is not
why all of us decided to pursue public service, and it's certainly
not why the American people elected us to represent them in Washington.
Our constituents expect more from us, and this is our opportunity
to live up to those expectations. That's why I will be voting for
Senator Feingold's amendment and that's why I expect my colleagues
to do the same.
I thank the Chair and I yield the floor.