Holding the Government Accountable

The Democratic Congress: Will Rhetoric Match Reality?

Over the Thanksgiving break, both the Washington Post and the New York Times ran stories that are so important we wanted to make sure no one missed them while in their post-turkey tryptophan haze. The issue they both addressed is the growing evidence that the Democrats who are about to be back in control are beginning to act a lot like the Republicans have in the last several years. One element of this: Perpetuating the dynamic that existed under the Republicans, lobby shops are hiring Democratic staffers in order to maintain their influence on the Hill.

The newspaper Roll Call reported in May 2003 (paid subscription req'd) that Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), who was just voted House Majority Leader, had his "Own 'K St. Project'" with help from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California), the incoming Speaker of the House:

In an effort to counter the GOP's vaunted "K Street Project," senior House Democrats are quietly reaching out to Democratic lobbyists in the business community to re-establish ties that have withered since the party lost control of the House nearly a decade ago.


Hoyer, who is considered more centrist than others in the Democratic leadership, leads the effort. But each of the three Democratic leaders, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), plays a role.


"Hoyer has taken a page out of the Republican playbook," said one Democratic lobbyist involved in the effort. "This is a huge step from the previous leadership by recognizing that the business community can be allied with Democrats on some issues.

An incoming committee chairman told me privately that he has is concerned that his party was stooping to the same pattern of pandering to corporate interests in order to regain power. Well now they have it. Should we be surprised they are now following the same path created by Hoyer and Pelosi? That said, the Democrats still have time to prove they are not as distracted by campaign contributions as the Republicans they have beaten.

In the perhaps single most venal example of a "public servant" cashing in on their time in government, former Republican House Energy and Commerce Chair cum-drug industry lobbyist Billy Tauzen is working overtime to preserve the crappy Medicare prescription drug deal he stewarded for his future employer. His deal prevents the government from negotiating cheaper prices (i.e. smaller profits for his clients) for Medicare recipients. He and the drug industry are scrambling to buy up as many Democrats as they can to help represent them against idealistic Members of Congress who might actually want to advance the public interest. This is the first test of the Democrats. Are they going to accept Tauzen's siren calls to the dark side?

POGO believes the inappropriate influence of the drug industry over public health policy is one of the most important issues facing our country. As a result, at our strategic review last year, we decided to create a new program area of our investigations called "Public Services" which will investigate the corruption and other misconduct in the health care, transportation, housing and other public service agencies. If you're aware of any evidence of corruption in these areas, please contact us. Help us make the new Congress as ethical as they claim they're going to be.