Letter to Congressional Leaders on the Agenda for the 104th Congress
We have an opportunity to make historic change in the way that Washington works and the government does the people's business.
This week, the Congress has begun to take important and positive steps to change its operations for the better. Shrinking the number of committees, reducing staff, and other measures are valuable, and long overdue. The passage of legislation that would apply to Congress the laws that apply to the public is only fair, is simple common sense, and is also long overdue. I hope that this time, unlike the last session of Congress, the Senate follows the House's action. I congratulate you on these steps.
But true congressional reform must reduce the power of lobbyists and special interests. The power of organized money in Washington hurts the middle class, bloats spending and the deficit, and blocks needed change. Today, some 90,000 people in Washington are associated with lobbying Congress on behalf of specific interests, which too often are able to manipulate the congressional process to insert spending projects or tax provisions in legislation that do not serve the larger public's interest. Lobby power coupled with the ever-escalating cost of campaigns, which has risen fourfold over the past two decades, gives wealthy interests and wealthy candidates disproportionate influence in decisionmaking.
These are not partisan concerns; they are American concerns. I urge you, as you undertake the task of reforming Congress, to take on these real political reform issues.
First, as you enact legislation to apply general laws to Congress, it is vital that professional lobbyists be barred from giving gifts, meals and entertainment to members of Congress—just as they are now barred from giving these benefits to executive branch officials.
Second, Congress should also quickly enact legislation to bring professional lobbyists into the sunlight of public scrutiny. The current lobby disclosure statute is cumbersome and antiquated. Lobbyists should disclose who their clients are, what bills they seek to pass or block, and how much they are paid.
Third, I am pleased that the Congress wants to pass a line item veto authority for the President, something that I have consistently supported before and during the 1992 campaign and since. The line item veto authority will help us cut unnecessary spending and reduce the budget deficit. It is a powerful tool for fighting special interests, who too often are able to win approval of wasteful projects through manipulation of the congressional process, and bury them in massive bills where they are protected from Presidential vetoes. It will increase the accountability of government. I want a strong version of the line item veto, one that enables the President to take direct steps to curb wasteful spending. This is clearly an area where both parties can come together in the national interest, and I look forward to working with the Congress to quickly enact this measure.
Finally, we must clean up political campaigns, limit the cost of campaigning, reduce the role of special interests, and increase the role of ordinary citizens. Real campaign finance reform, too, should be an area of bipartisan cooperation. Requiring broadcasters to provide time to bona fide candidates would cut the cost of campaigning and ensure that voters hear all arguments, regardless of candidate wealth. Strong proposals for free TV time have been introduced in previous years by Senator Dole and by the new chair of the House Commerce Committee, Rep. Thomas Bliley; these proposals should be the basis of agreement on reform.
I look forward to working with the Congress to achieve results that are bipartisan, bold, and give the government back to the people.
NOTE: Identical letters were sent to Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Richard K. Armey, House majority leader; Richard A. Gephardt, House minority leader; Robert Dole, Senate majority leader; and Thomas A. Daschle, Senate minority leader.
William J. Clinton, Letter to Congressional Leaders on the Agenda for the 104th Congress Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/220891