WASHINGTON -- House Republican leaders, under pressure from their own freshmen, caustic Democrats and loyal senior Republicans, have decided to bring anti-lobbying measures to the floor in the next few weeks, abandoning their plan to wait until next year.
They plan to take up the bill the Senate passed in July, which would require the registration of thousands of lobbyists who now escape the loose restraints in the current law.
They also expect to duplicate the Senate's gift ban, which imposes a limit of $100 in gifts and meals to legislators or their aides from any person in a single year.
Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, who has been his party's leading advocate of limits on lobbyists, said last week that Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, the majority leader, had been persuaded to go ahead with the bill.
'It will be done'
Action this year would enable the new rules to take effect Jan. 1, while a delay could postpone them until 1997, as far as the House is concerned.
"I have spoken with Newt," Mr. Shays said. "I have spoken with Dick Armey, and they all agree this can be a plus. In the next two months, it will be done."
A spokesman for Mr. Gingrich confirmed that account, saying the speaker had told Mr. Shays the bill could come up -- after the House deals with Medicare.
While the accelerated schedule is unrelated to the publication of Sen. Bob Packwood's diaries, which revealed in detail the excesses of the Oregonian's ties to lobbyists, the national attention given them will make an already easy vote for more restrictions even easier for House members to cast.
The Senate gift ban will take effect as a rule Jan. 1, 1996; the new lobbying restrictions were passed in the form of a bill that requires House approval.
Last year the House passed a single measure including lobbying registration and a gift ban. But the legislation was killed last fall in the Senate by Republicans who sought to deny Democrats the credit for a reform measure just before the election.
This year, once the measures were forced to the Senate floor by Democratic filibuster threats, they passed overwhelmingly.
Adding limits to lobbying has not been a high priority for House Republicans. On Sept. 6, Mr. Gingrich said: "I think we'll get to lobbying and gift reform early next year."
But last week the leaders persuaded Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, a Connecticut Republican, to have the Ethics Committee consider the gift ban. She and the other committee members were studying material on it during the weekend and plan to discuss the question this week.
"I am pleased they want our input," she said Friday. "My sense is they are moving."
Rep. Charles T. Canady, a Florida Republican who heads the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, said after a hearing on the Senate measures earlier this month that he believed there was no need for his subcommittee to write a bill because there was general agreement that the Senate had done a good job.
"I think we can take the Senate bill and pass it under suspension," he said. When the House considers noncontroversial bills under suspension of the rules, 40 minutes of debate are allowed and a two-thirds vote is required.
There is no question that both the new registration requirements and a rule limiting gifts for members and aides will pass easily if they come to the floor, as the two 98-0 votes in the Senate demonstrated. The House voted, 315- 110, for similar measures on March 24, 1994.
Aside from the hearing before Mr. Canady's subcommittee, where groups from Common Cause to the Chamber of Commerce endorsed the Senate bill, the only recent public display over the lobbying issue came when Democrats made a futile effort to attach lobbying restrictions to a spending bill providing money to operate Congress.
But while the Democrats were defeated Sept. 6, the day the House returned from summer vacation, they succeeded in making Republicans edgy during the debate.
During that earlier House debate, Rep. John Bryant of Texas said the issue was simple: "Do you think that we should be able to play golf for free, play tennis for free, go skiing for free, fly around the country on these recreational outings that are thinly disguised vacations?"
He said the House should answer: "If you are going to play golf, pay for it yourself. If you are going on a ski trip, pay for it yourself. If you are going to go out and have a big fancy meal, pay for it yourself."
Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, contended that the golf outings helped charities.
Mr. Shays, opposing the Democratic effort, assured the House that the lobbying and gift ban issues would be brought up. "I would not run again if gift ban and lobby disclosure are not passed," he said. "If it is not taken up, I will not run again. That is how strongly I believe in my leadership and in my fellow Republicans taking up gift ban and lobby disclosure."