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Lawmakers and lobbyists are part of the constant stream of foot traffic at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Lawmakers and lobbyists are part of the constant stream of foot traffic at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Globe Staff Photo / Dina Rudick)

Back-room dealing a Capitol trend

Page 7 of 10 -- David Williams, Citizens Against Government Waste's vice president of policy, said one-party rule in Washington has exacerbated the influence of certain special interests.

"Our theory has been that there's no such thing as a political party when it comes to appropriations," Williams said. "Everyone has his hand in the pot. But it doesn't help if you have one party controlling everything. . . . There really is a case to be made for divided government."

On two of the most critical bills this Congress has considered -- the Medicare and energy bills -- Republican conference committee members met in private, refusing to allow entry to Democrats picked to be on the negotiating committee by claiming that the meetings were not official conference sessions.

While Republican leaders claimed to obey congressional rules by allowing Democrats to attend the opening and closing sessions, the actual work of writing the bills was done in secret and exclusively by Republicans; in some cases, Democrats didn't even know in which room their conference-committee colleagues were holed up writing the bill.

Representative Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat who is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was appointed as a conferee on the energy bill. But after being shut out of all but the opening and closing sessions of the conference committee, Markey said he had to talk to lobbyists to find out what was in the bill.

"It's at a historical level, a modern historic record for secrecy in the production of a piece of important legislation," Markey said. "It's a process that has excluded Democrats and largely disregarded the voices of environmentalists, consumers, and labor."

The energy bill was mired in secrecy from its inception, when Vice President Cheney's energy task force met to develop proposals that formed the basis of the legislation. An analysis by Public Citizen of some public documents shows that at least seven energy industry executives and lobbyists met with the task force, and that several members of that group are major fund-raisers for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Virtually all of the energy companies whose leaders met with the task force would benefit from the tax credits, subsidies, and deregulation laid out in the energy package.

Little time for examination

Once the energy proposal went to the Hill, Democrats were not permitted entry into the closed-door talks to write the complicated bill. Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican who was one of the bill's leading negotiators, said the exclusive conference process was the only way to get a bill written, given all of the regional and ideological disagreements.

On a Saturday, when Congress was not in session, the conference committee released the more than 1,000-page bill on its website, sending lawmakers scrambling to read the document. The House was presented with the bill for a full vote the following Tuesday, leaving little time for a close examination by House members.   Continued...

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