Congress rescues its perks! 

Congress is off to a razzle-dazzle start, with a new speaker of the House and several bushy-tailed new members. But from the get-go, they've been up to the same old tricks.

On Jan. 6, the members were sworn-in and freshman Speaker Dennis Hastert promptly gaveled through the very first piece of business. It's good to know they're wasting no time, isn't it? But if you're thinking that their top legislative priority was health care, jobs, pollution prevention or anything else to help you, get real.

The first order of business for this bunch was to change the rules so House members can once again accept gifts from lobbyists. The House imposed a reform measure four years ago banning such gifts from corporate hired guns seeking favors, but now both political parties have conspired to allow gifts of up to $50 from lobbyists, which can cover a nice bottle of wine, a congressman's meal at a posh restaurant or a ticket to get into the luxury box of a sports event.

The rationale offered by the leadership for putting this loophole in the gift ban is that the previous rule was "confusing," leading to hundreds of appeals to the ethics committee for exemptions so a member could accept something so "trivial" as a box of candy.

Confusing? The previous rule said no gifts. Period. No luxury box seats, no meals, no candy, no nothing. What part of "no" is confusing? And why should our lawmakers be accepting even a box of candy from lobbyists?

And if members really think that accepting a $50 gift is so "trivial," why were they so shy about standing up and being counted on it? By agreement with the leaders of both parties, the loophole was rushed through with no debate and only a voice vote, so they did not have to go on record as having cast their first vote of the new Congress for a special perk for themselves.

Welcome to business as usual.

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