WASHINGTON – Two leaders in current efforts to reduce special interest influence on Congress once again appeared to be fighting on the same side Wednesday, two days after an unusually fiery falling out.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., testified together at a Senate hearing on lobbying and ethics overhaul. With a pat on the back and an exchange of compliments, they publicly put in the past an angry letter from McCain charging that Obama was more interested in scoring political points than in working together on the ethics issue.
"I'm particularly pleased to be sharing this panel with my pen pal, John McCain, and look forward to working with him," Obama said at the Senate Rules Committee hearing.
When Obama walked into the hearing room, he put his arm on McCain's shoulder and posed for photographers.
McCain told the committee that he and Obama "are moving on and are continuing to work together and I value his input."
McCain for years has campaigned to reduce the influence of money in politics and make lawmakers less beholden to special interests. His letter on Monday accused the Illinois freshman of putting partisan politics ahead of the public interest. McCain also wrote that he was mistaken in assuming that Obama's concern for good government was "genuine and admirable."
McCain apparently was upset that Obama, after being invited to a bipartisan meeting on lobbying reform, had written a letter expressing support for a plan being pushed only by Democrats.
"I have no idea what has prompted your response," Obama said in a second letter to McCain. "But let me assure you that I am not interested in typical partisan rhetoric or posturing."
The lawmakers also said they would support separate proposals to bring greater control and transparency to the specific projects that are inserted in larger bills at the request of individual members or special interest groups. Such projects, known as earmarks, often are added without the knowledge of other lawmakers.
McCain said his bill would allow senators, with a 60-vote majority, to eliminate earmarks and policy changes that are inserted into annual spending bills by House and Senate negotiators after the bills leave the Senate.
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have introduced a similar measure.
Obama said this was "an area where we should be able to move forward quickly."
The Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal is driving lobbying changes to the top of the legislative agenda. Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has asked the relevant committees to come up with legislation that would clarify or limit what lawmakers can receive from lobbyists in way of gifts, meals and travel. The earmark issue could be included in such legislation.