Despite divisions among Democrats over how far to go in revising ethics rules, House leaders plan a major rollout of an ethics reform bill early next year to demonstrate concern about an issue that helped defeat the Republicans in the midterm elections.

But they will do it with a twist: Instead of forwarding one big bill, Democrats will put together an ethics package on the House floor piece by piece, allowing incoming freshmen to take charge of high-profile issues and lengthening the time spent on the debate. The approach will ensure that each proposal — including banning gifts, meals and travel from lobbyists as well as imposing new controls on the budget deficit — is debated on its own and receives its own vote. That should garner far more media attention for the bill’s components before a final vote on the entire package.

The approach may be the first indication of how the Democrats plan to use their ability to control the House agenda as the majority power, setting the terms of debate while lifting the strict rules that Republicans used to curtail dissent.

And Democrats hope to show that they are attentive to issues of corruption that, according to exit polling, proved to be of major concern to voters on Nov. 7. House and Senate GOP leaders pledged early this year to pass major lobbying reforms in the aftermath of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal but never delivered on their promise.

Democratic leaders are still putting the finishing touches on the floor schedule and some of the components of the ethics package, said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for incoming House speaker. But other Democratic leadership aides said the proposal to break up the package and reassemble it is virtually a done deal.

While there is broad support for reform, Democrats face divisions on how far to go on some issues, such as whether to establish an independent board to enforce ethics rules. But leaders are eager to show that they are serious about tackling the corrosive influence of lobbyists and money, so much so that they are willing to spend days working on the issue. They may even let the divisions play out in public, with amendments allowed that may or may not pass, on issues from campaign finance to independent oversight.

c/o-: Jonathan Weisman; Washington Post 

Originally posted on November 24, 2006 @ 1:37 pm

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