Democrats gained control of the House and Senate in November on a promise to end the war in Iraq and clean up Congress.
Both are proving to be harder than they might have looked. In back-to-back votes, the House gave President Bush the funds he requested to continue the war for the rest of this fiscal year, through September, and approved a lobbying reform that was weaker than Democrats had pledged at the start of the 110th Congress.
While antiwar groups expressed their dismay over the war-funding vote, public-interest groups praised the big margin of victory for the lobbying and disclosure overhaul, which passed 382 to 37. The reform legislation could get even stronger, they add, after negotiations with the Senate.
"The hotly contested lobbying bill the House passed today is a major achievement toward ethics reform, but there are significant holes left to be filled," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, in a statement after Thursday's vote.
At the heart of the reform are expanded disclosure requirements for federally registered lobbyists, including the campaign contributions they "bundle" for candidates and lawmakers. These disclosures would have to be expedited – filed quarterly and electronically instead of semiannually and, in the Senate, on paper.
No issue is more charged for members of Congress than restrictions on money for campaigns, and House Democrats had to beat back opposition within their own ranks to disclosure requirements that might rein in funds from the K Street lobby firms.
Freshmen Democrats, many of whom campaigned on a pledge to end the "culture of corruption" in Washington, joined with Republicans to pass measures on the House floor to strengthen the reform.
• Closing a loophole that exempted state and local governments and public universities from lobbyist regulations.
• Requiring that lobbyists disclose their requests for earmarks, or special projects, in spending bills.