WASHINGTON - House Democrats are suddenly balking at the tough lobbying changes they touted to voters last fall as a reason for putting them in charge of Congress.
Now that they are running things, many Democrats want to keep the big campaign donations and lavish parties that lobbyists put together for them. They're also having second thoughts about having to wait an extra year before they can become high-paid lobbyists themselves should they retire or be defeated at the polls.
Growing resistance to several proposed changes threatens passage of a bill that once seemed on track to fulfill Democrats' campaign promise of cleaner fund-raising and lobbying practices.
"The longer we wait, the weaker the bill seems to get," said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, which has pushed for the changes.
"The sense of urgency is fading," he said, in part because scandals such as those involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R., Calif.) have given way to other news.
The situation concerns some Democrats, who note that their party campaigned against a "culture of corruption" in 2006, when voters ended a long run of Republican control of Congress. Several high-profile issues remained in doubt yesterday, five days before the House Judiciary Committee was to take up the legislation.
They include proposals to:
Require lobbyists to disclose details about large donations they arrange for politicians.
Make former lawmakers wait two years, instead of one, before lobbying Congress.
Bar lobbyists from throwing large parties for lawmakers at national political conventions.
All appeared headed for adoption in January when the Senate, with much fanfare, included them in a lobby-overhaul bill that passed easily. But the provisions, plus others in the bill, cannot become law unless the House concurs - and that's where feet are dragging.
The issues are in danger of being dropped from the House version, a Democratic member close to the negotiations said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because sensitive discussions were continuing.
The snags are frustrating to advocates in and out of Congress who want more restrictions and greater transparency in lobbying and fund-raising. Early this year, they appeared to be on the edge of victory.
Within hours of taking control of the House and Senate, Democrats engineered rule changes to bar lawmakers and their aides from accepting meals, gifts or trips from lobbyists or groups that employ lobbyists.
They also made it far more difficult for lawmakers to slip targeted items, known as earmarks, into spending bills without divulging the source. Such "pork projects" have greatly benefited some companies with well-connected lobbyists.
These rule changes are now in effect in the House. But they will not apply to the Senate unless both chambers reconcile a lobbying bill that the president signs into law.
"Members of Congress ignore this issue at their peril," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), who chairs his party's 2008 House campaign committee. "The public wants a Congress that is open and accountable."