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but we will look forward to your in-depth recommendations in the not-too-distant future. Thank you very much.
We are going to go right to you, Mr. Barrett and we have panel of Mr. Shays and several of his colleagues. If you all would like to come forward now. We only have two chairs here, but why don't you come forward, Chris and the other colleagues who are joining us, and at least take a seat here, and then we will begin with Mr. Barrett.
Please, go right ahead. We are happy to have you.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. THOMAS M. BARRETT, A U.S.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you very much. Thanks for the opportunity to be here and I want to praise you for the efforts that you are making. I am here today to ask you to include in your proposals a simple change in Federal law. I think that the law should state that Members of Congress and their staffs are prohibited from receiving anything of value from lobbyists or the principals. It is a simple idea, it is straightforward, and you don't need an army of lawyers to interpret it.
In making the proposal, I recognize that there are a lot of people in this city who would think that this is a Pollyanna-ish idea or maybe that I just got off the fruit boat. But I want to assure you that 90 percent in this country would support this idea.
Before you consider it, I think it is important for you to know who I am not. I am a new Member of Congress, but I am not a Congress-basher. I wasn't elected to the Congress trying to tear down this institution. I have a lot of respect for this institution, and I firmly belief that we can improve it through positive action rather than trying to rip each other and rip the institution.
You should also know that I am not a novice to legislative bodies. I served 8 years in the Wisconsin legislature in both the State senate and the State assembly, so I know the great good that legislators can do and the things that can be done. But I also know that a law prohibiting legislators and legislative staff from receiving anything of value can work, because it is the law of the State of Wisconsin, and it works very well there.
The beauty of the Wisconsin law is that it is fair and everybody understands it. It is awkward and sometimes it borders on the ridiculous, such as those occasions when a legislator must decline a cup of coffee from a lobbyist. However, both legislators and lobbyists understand the rules.
Here in Washington, Members of both chambers have increasingly been criticized for distancing themselves from constituents. One way in which we might become closer to those we represent is to ensure that we do not seek or accept meals, gifts and trips which are not available to the general public.
This committee was formed to explore ways in which the Members of Congress can get back in touch with the people who elect them. A stronger ethics policy at the Federal level will enable the Members of Congress to hear more clearly the voices of the American people calling for a government which addresses their problems, rather than the issues of special interests.
Again, thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify and good luck in your deliberations.
[The statement of Mr. Barrett is printed in the Appendix.]
Mr. DREIER. Thank you very much, Mr. Barrett. That is a new recommendation which, frankly, has not been discussed in any of our meetings so far. We will take it seriously.
Chairman BOREN. Mr. Barrett, I want to thank you for your suggestion. It makes great good sense to me. As we know, members of the staff are a very important part of the legislative process.
They certainly exert influence on the Members of Congress for whom they work in terms of the positions taken on legislation. Again, I think restoring public confidence in the institution—as I say, all of us are part of this institution.
We love this institution. We realize what it can be and what it should be. We are trustees. We want during our tenure to make it better, not to see it lose its vitality as an institution. I think what you suggested is very important because the staff is an important part of the process.
I might say to you I want to also welcome you to the Congress. I have not had a chance to do that personally but since you are here proposing staff rules, you sent to me some years ago one of the best staff members I ever had. He is seated behind me here.
We are bringing in a staff member from Wisconsin. We tried to work on him so he wouldn't speak with an accent anymore, he would speak like people in Oklahoma. He came obviously after having worked with you in the State legislature as a person committed to the institutional process, reform, and good government. That speaks a lot for your own mentoring role of the young staff you had as a member of the legislature. I remember discussing it with you at that time when I was considering bringing him on board.
So I am especially pleased to see you come to the Congress, someone with your values, your experience at the State level, the State legislature, and particularly pleased that in your first month here as a Member of Congress that you would come forward and make suggestions for the improvement of this institution.
I want to thank you for that.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you very much.
Mr. DREIER. Thank you very much, Mr. Barrett.
Chris, your panel includes Mr. Swett and Mr. Dickey, Mr. Mann, Mr. Bartlett. Those of you who are here, please come forward. After this, we will break until 2:00 p.m.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS, A U.S.
Mr. SHAYS. Thank you, distinguished Chairman.
We really appreciate that Congress is trying to make us more effective as an institution and more accountable to the public. I am here today joined with my colleagues Dick Swett from New Hampshire; David Mann from Ohio; Roscoe Bartlett will be here from Maryland; Jay Dickey from Arkansas; myself from Connecticut.
We are old, we are new, we are extraordinarily concerned about the fact we have a practice that has gone on regretfully for a number of years and that has become worse not better, and that is the fact Congress too often exempts itself from laws it requires the executive branch and private sector to live by.
We know there is an argument of separation of powers. We know there is an argument of legislative privilege. We know, as well, Mr. Chairman, that Members must be free to say what they need to say on the Floor without fear of suits. These are all arguments.
But there is also the argument of checks and balances. We are united in our view that Congress will write better laws when it has to live by the laws it requires others in the private sector and executive branch to live by. There is much we could say.
I would like to yield to my colleague, Mr. Swett, and then others here would like to make comments.
[The statement of Mr. Shays is printed in the Appendix.]
STATEMENT OF THE HON. DICK SWETT, A U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
Mr. SWETT. Thank you very much, Congressman Shays. Chris has said, and he and I have worked diligently on this issue for many, many hours and have committed a sizable amount of our attitude and efforts to seeing this successfully passed.
First, I would like to express my thanks, though, to the committee for giving us the opportunity to testify before you on a matter we believe reaches to the heart of the committee's charge. We are here today on a bipartisan basis, as you can see, and certainly as the list of sponsors and cosponsors to this bill would indicate. We wanted to be respected by the American people because each of us cares deeply about this institution.
We, like you, are deeply troubled by the polls and all the pundits which tell us that the Congress is not held in that high regard. We believe our proposal to be a modest but important one. It addresses, we think, a substantive issue, but we also believe it has wider ramifications for the larger struggle in which we are all collectively engaged: Returning Congress to a place of high esteem in the minds of our constituents, and probably more fundamentally stated, we need to reconstruct a bridge of trust between the American public and their elected officials.
Substantively, we believe congressional employees deserve the enjoyment of the full benefits and protections that we mandate for employees in the private sector. We think the same standards Congress has mandated for private businesses and the executive branch in laws like the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act should apply to Congress as well. We think there is a simple issue of equity and fairness here. Whatever the rationale, however, and however reasonable the explanation, it is wrong for us to pass laws which would otherwise apply to a Congress and then-which would otherwise apply to Congress and then exempt ourselves in whole or in part from their operation.
It is also true that those who wish to tear down this institution will continue to seize on these exemptions as ammunition until we
end them. These exemptions are the delight of Congress-bashers everywhere, exploited to put all of those who serve here in the worst possible light. Preserving these exemptions will hurt our efforts to restore the reputation of this institution. Quite frankly, they are not worth it.
Lastly, I have a personal comment to make. I am a second term Member of this body. I am an architect by training; prior to coming to Congress in January 1991, an alternative energy developer by vocation. In these earlier incarnations I worked with and labored under a wide gamut of Federal regulations. That experience leads me to believe we will be better served if as legislators our own institution is required to submit to the laws it passes.
We are all familiar with Samuel Johnson's famous comment, "the prospect of imminent hanging never fails to concentrate the mind." Similarly, we will pass better laws if we know we will be living and working under them. I hope the committee will address this important issue in its recommendations.
Thank you for the time.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. DAVID MANN, A U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE STATE OF OHIO
Mr. MANN. Good morning. I am David Mann, a freshman Member of Congress from Cincinnati. I am here because of my daughter who is 23 years old, has worn a hearing aid since she was 11 months old. She has a 10 decibel hearing loss. If she had a 90 decibel loss, she would hear nothing.
This summer she asked if the Americans with Disabilities legislation, which became effective at that time, applied to Congress. I said, "Debbie, I don't know." I did an inquiry, and I said the rules apply.
She said, "Well, if I apply for a job on the Hill, and am rejected because of my hearing loss, do I have a remedy?" I said yes.
She said, "Well, who judges my case?" I said, "the Members of Congress." And she is a fairly bright girl. She said, "You mean the Members of Congress judge their colleagues?" I said yes.
She said, "What if I am not happy with the result?"
"That is the end of your remedy.
"You mean I can't go to court?"
She said, "That's not fair."
I said, "You are right.'
I pledged when I came here one of the first things I would work on is changing the congressional practice of exemption from a whole set of rules. It is not fair. It is not perceived to be fair.
I want my colleagues to be called into judicial question if they fail to treat my daughter properly. I urge this committee to look very carefully at whether we should not change our practices and should not embrace the Congressional Accountability Act.
Thank you very much.
[The statement of Mr. Mann is printed in the Appendix.]
STATEMENT OF THE HON. JAY DICKEY, A U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE STATE OF ARKANSAS
Mr. DICKEY. I am Jay Dickey from Arkansas. I wanted to mention something from what Tom Barrett said before I get into the meat of what I am here for.
Wal-Mart, Senator, that you are familiar with in Bentonville, AR has a plan-got a program about taking gifts from manufacturers' rep's that would be awfully good in our government. I am thinking also that as we learn from business, we can learn from them in other areas, too.
The area I am concerned about is the regulations we go through in business. I am a novice to politics. I am a novice to government operations.
But I am not a novice to business. I have been under the scrutiny of regulators. In fact, I have been inspected seven times during this campaign I was in recently; and I get this idea that if we do not bring these laws to the Members of Congress, they will never understand what it is like to be on your heels, to be running, dodging, bothering, weaving, talking to folks who don't even know what they are talking about.
They just have a job. They come down. Sometimes they are history majors or masters in physics or whatever. They are coming down regulating these businesses.
My point today is that if we could get Congress to have these regulations come down on them, on us, let's put it that way, that we would then know what an onerous burden it is.
We would come face to face in a straight confrontation with the regulators, and then the costs of what is going on out there will be brought to us in a very real way.
I think if that happens, we will instruct ourselves, which is absolutely necessary. The voters are fed up. They are fed up with the fact that we are some type of royalty up here and that we can pass laws and mandate things and say you all do right because we say this is right and then they do not understand why it is that they have to do the things that we don't have to do.
So I want to emphasize that from my experience.
All of us are working for passage of the Congressional Accountability Act. There are now 150 cosponsors in the House. We sincerely request in the process of your deliberation that you look at this legislation and see if we can have a process that does, in fact, put us under all the laws in an effective way.
Chairman BOREN. I thank you all very much for your testimony. I am not going to ask questions because I happen to agree with you.
I think that the point you made is a very important one. I don't know how often we hear from our constituents back home that comment if you people had to live under the laws that you pass, you would be wiser and more careful in what you were doing.