This is so frickin' bogus. It may not be needed after all? Bullcrap! They just don't want to give up the "perks" associated with having lobbyists around. Who the hell do they think they are fooling anyway?

Push to Tighten Lobbying Rules Loses Strength

WASHINGTON, March 10 — The drive for a tighter lobbying law, just two months ago a major priority on Capitol Hill, is losing momentum, a victim of shifting political interests, infighting among House Republicans and a growing sense among lawmakers of both parties that wholesale change may not be needed after all.

In the Senate, debate on a lobbying bill was derailed this week by the fracas over port security, and it is unclear when the measure will return. A chief architect of the legislation, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said Friday that the bill was "way off track" and that she feared its chances had been jeopardized.

"People have turned to other issues," Ms. Collins said in a telephone interview from Maine. "This was our window, and I'm afraid it will be slammed shut."

In the House, Representative David Dreier of California, the Republicans' point man on lobbying legislation, said reaching consensus on what the bill should include had been more difficult than he had expected.

In January, shortly after the lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to corruption charges, Mr. Dreier and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert called for tough restrictions, including a ban on gifts, meals and privately financed travel. They said their aim was to have legislation drafted by February. But the new majority leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, is not keen on the travel ban, and there is still no legislation.

"We have not moved as expeditiously as we would have liked," Mr. Dreier said in an interview. "There is a wide range of views. There are still people who feel very strongly about the need to make some changes, and there are people who are not as enthused."

Members of both parties said that they still expected some kind of lobbying legislation to be passed this year but that it might be narrower than many advocates of tighter rules first called for.

The initial fervor for legislation was fueled by the Abramoff scandal, coupled with the resignation of Representative Randy Cunningham, Republican of California, after he pleaded guilty in another corruption case. With the midterm elections on the horizon, lawmakers seemed in a big hurry for reform. Republicans in particular worried that the ethics issue would turn on them the way it did on Democrats in 1994, when Republicans took control of the House.

"Comprehensive lobbying reform is the right thing to do," Mr. Hastert said in January, adding, "I believe that to regain the trust of the American people in this institution, we must go further than prosecuting the bad actors."

But the next shoe in the Abramoff scandal has yet to drop, and lawmakers say their constituents are far more concerned with issues like health care and the Iraq war. Many express a view offered by Senator Mel Martinez, Republican of Florida, who said the Abramoff and Cunningham cases showed that the current laws worked.

"I do sense that there's a little less of a furor about it," Mr. Martinez said. "The people responsible seem to be being dealt with in the justice system, as they should. A lot of this is politically reacting to a situation, and when you get down to it, you realize that there's an awful lot of rules already on the books, and what we need to do is apply them."

Ms. Collins said she sensed reluctance to take bold action.

"People have mixed feelings," she said. "On the one hand, they do recognize that we need to boost public confidence in the integrity of our decision-making. On the other hand, members regard themselves as ethical, and some question whether we should be moving to fix the laws, when it was the laws that were broken."

The initial votes on the Senate bill have shown the limits of the appetite for change. Already a Senate committee has rejected a plan, advanced by Ms. Collins and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, to create an independent office to investigate ethics abuses. And while the Senate did vote this week in favor of a ban on gifts and meals from lobbyists, the real fight will be over whether to limit a much more lucrative perk: private travel, and lawmakers' use of corporate jets.

There has been little political fallout from the Abramoff case, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. A survey by the center in January, the week after Mr. Abramoff's guilty plea, found that just 18 percent of Americans had closely followed the case; by comparison, 32 percent had closely followed President Bush's acknowledgment that he had authorized the National Security Agency to conduct some domestic wiretapping without warrants.

Further, Congress tends to have a short attention span. Without a grass-roots hue and cry of the sort that pushed lawmakers to block the Dubai port deal this week, it was perhaps inevitable that the push for lobbying law changes would diminish.

"Abramoff made it topical and personal," said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, "and as time passes people start thinking about Dubai port deals and the future of the war in Iraq."

Outside observers say it will now take another eruption — the indictment of a member of Congress in the Abramoff inquiry, or a similar scandalous event — to put the issue front and center again.

One expert on money in politics, Prof. James A. Thurber of American University, predicted that any legislation would amount to "lobby lite" unless more lawmakers were prosecuted. And Norman J. Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has testified frequently on lobbying law changes, said: "The fervor for reform in this case was driven by a fear that a match was about to be lit to dry tinder. They were scared to death they would go back home and people would be waiting as they got off the plane with buckets of tar and bales of feathers."

Representative Adam H. Putnam, Republican of Florida, said lawmakers' interest in tough restrictions was directly related to vulnerability at the polls. "I think this entire Congress is schizophrenic on this right now," said Mr. Putnam, a member of the House Rules Committee, which is charged with drafting lobbying legislation.

Mr. Dreier and Mr. Hastert both said in January that they wanted bipartisan support for legislation. But that could prove difficult in the House, where Democrats are hammering an election-year theme of a Republican "culture of corruption" and are using the lobbying issue to demand more influence within the chamber. Asked if she would be willing to work with Republicans, the senior Democrat on the Rules Committee, Representative Louise M. Slaughter of New York, said, "I have misgivings about that."

Some in the House are waiting to see what the Senate will do. But when Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, tried to attach a port security measure to the Senate's lobbying bill this week, the lobbying debate came to a halt. Unless the two parties can reach an agreement to dispatch the legislation quickly, the bill may not come back to the Senate floor until April.

"It did lose momentum," said Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, the chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee, who is managing the Senate floor debate. But "I think it will come back again," he said, "because we need to do it, we can do it."