I wouldn't exactly call what they passed as productive or very restrictive, would you?

Senate Approves Lobbying Limits by Wide Margin

WASHINGTON, March 29 — The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed the first major restrictions on lobbying in more than a decade, banning lobbyists from giving gifts and meals to lawmakers and tightening rules for pet projects known as earmarks.

But critics called the bipartisan measure weak, and some lawmakers who led the effort for tighter restrictions voted against it.

The bill would require lobbyists to file more public reports about their activities in a searchable Internet database, would demand that lawmakers receive advance approval for trips paid with private money and would bar former lawmakers and senior aides from lobbying Congress for two years.

The vote, 90 to 8, was taken hours after Jack Abramoff, whose lobbying activities prompted a federal criminal investigation into corruption here and calls for a crackdown on influence peddling, was sentenced in Miami to nearly six years in prison for his role in the fraudulent purchase of a cruise line.

Mr. Abramoff, who said in a brief court appearance Wednesday that he was "profoundly remorseful," is cooperating in a broader investigation that is scrutinizing members of Congress, among others, and has provided Democrats an opening to attack Republicans on ethics grounds.

Mr. Abramoff's wining and dining, featuring tales of lavish meals at his restaurant here and laundered money that paid for golf trips to Scotland, have helped sour the public on Congress, driving lawmakers' approval ratings to historic lows in this election year.

When Mr. Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges of corruption in January and agreed to tell what he knows to federal prosecutors, Republicans and Democrats called for broad changes in the way the thousands of registered lobbyists do business.

"There's a sign that's now up in front of the Capitol," Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, a chief Democratic author of the measure, said after the vote. "It says 'Not for Sale.' "

But Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has long pressed for tougher laws on lobbying, called the bill "very, very weak."

The measure would not ban private travel, as some members have urged. Nor would it rein in lawmakers' ability to fly on corporate jets at heavily discounted rates, a practice that gives precious access to lobbyists, who often go along for the trip.

The measure would not do away with earmarks, though it would make it more difficult for lawmakers to insert the pet projects quietly into bills at lobbyists' behest. And the Senate overwhelmingly rejected, 30 to 67, a move to create an independent ethics office to investigate accusations of abuse.

The lobbying debate now moves to the House, where Republican leaders are backing a proposal that would temporarily ban privately financed trips. Their approach would also require lobbyists to disclose meals and gifts to lawmakers, and it would require members of Congress to disclose when they earmark money for the specific projects that critics deride as pork-barrel spending.

House Republicans are split over the plan, and it is not clear whether the House and Senate will be able to agree on a measure this year.

Leaders of both parties, as well as the architects of the Senate bill, hailed its bipartisan passage at a time Republicans and Democrats rarely work together.

"Congress stepped up in a big way," the Republicans' point man on lobbying changes, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, said. "This is a much tougher bill than anyone would have anticipated when we started this process."

Some of the most highly visible advocates of overhauling laws on lobbying disagreed. Senators McCain and Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, who joined forces in the lobbying debate and then had a public dispute over it, were among those voting against the bill, as was Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin.

Mr. McCain predicted that there would be more indictments in the Abramoff case, and added, "I think we will be revisiting this issue."

Another senator who voted against the bill, Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, said his colleagues would suffer at the polls for failing to cut back on lobbyists' influence by eliminating the earmarks.

"You can wash the outside of the cup all you want," Mr. Coburn said. "If the inside is still unclean, you're going to have the same problems."

The other senators who voted against the bill were John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts; and three Republicans, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senators Robert C. Byrd and John D. Rockefeller IV, both Democrats of West Virginia, did not vote.

The bill does little to break the link between lobbyists and lawmakers' money-raising machines, because senators decided that those issues related to campaign finance, not lobbying. As a result, the bill steers clear of regulating the fund-raising activities of lobbyists, some of whom help run political action committees of the same lawmakers they hope to influence.

In that respect, Mr. Dodd said, the bill does not address "true meaningful campaign finance reform that breaks the link between the legislative favor seekers and the free flow of special interest private money."

Government watchdog groups agreed.

"This bill is not going to cut it and it's not going to fool the public," Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, an advocacy group, said. "The Senate was looking inward today."

With the midterm elections looming, Republican leaders in both chambers have been eager to pass a lobbying bill well before November to demonstrate that they are serious about cleaning up business in the Capitol.

Some lawmakers in tough re-election fights, like Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, wondered whether the measure would help.

"I don't know," Mr. DeWine said. "People are not really talking to me directly about lobbying. I think they're concerned about some of the quote scandal, but I don't have anybody come up to me and say there's a lobbying problem. It doesn't get that specific."

The Senate considered an independent Office of Public Integrity to investigate accusations of ethics abuses. But the measure, proposed by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, drew support from just 30 senators on Tuesday.

Ms. Collins said Wednesday that she was disappointed.

"The public," she said, "does not trust a system where we set our own rules, we're our own advisers, we're our own investigators, we're our own prosecutors, we're our own judges, and we're our own jurors."