Chris Coons, a Democrat running for Joe Biden's vacated Senate seat in Delaware, wants to cut Senate pay 10 percent and to ban former senators from ever becoming lobbyists.
"People are mad, and people really question whether Washington is working for them. Americans are willing to sacrifice, but that's just not what they're seeing out of D.C.," Coons told HuffPost. "There's a broad concern lobbyists and special interests have too much control over the outcomes."
When asked how Coons could possibly retire comfortably after a long Senate career if he couldn't become a lobbyist, the candidate replied, "I'm not planning on being a paid federal lobbyist as a way to fund my retirement."
Coons' proposal does not go as far as legislation introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.) -- who is also facing a tough election this year -- which would prohibit not just senators but also members of the House from ever becoming lobbyists. It's a popular proposal for Senate candidates: Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois, Brad Ellsworth in Indiana, and Robin Carnahan in Missouri also support banning members of Congress from K Street.
The congressional revolving door spins frequently: More than 300 former members of Congress have decided to "go downtown" after leaving the Hill.
The idea of a ban isn't terribly popular in the Senate: Bennet's bill has exactly one cosponsor. But Coons, a county executive, says he didn't get the idea from Bennet: He said the coincidence "suggests that this is a good idea that's coming up in response to grassroots anger."
Lobbyists don't exactly love the idea, either. "If you ban legislators from becoming lobbyists, that would increase my value," said Dave Wenhold, president of the American League of Lobbyists, which promotes best practices for the influence industry. "But by doing that you're eliminating somebody's ability to have post-employment work after doing public service. What's next? You're going to ban them from being dentists?"
Earlier in August, Coons' Republican opponent, Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), introduced ethics legislation that, among other things, would extend the "cooling off" period during which former members of Congress must wait before lobbying from one to two years. (The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 extended the Senate's cooling off period to two years but kept the House's to one.)
Coons also supports reforming Senate procedure, saying he'd like to eliminate secret earmarks and secret holds on legislation -- but he doesn't have a proposal for ending the filibuster. "I haven't made a concrete proposal for how to end the cloture rule requirement," Coons said. He added that he'll unveil more reform ideas in the future.
Senate veterans don't love it when youngsters want to reform the institution. "Those ideas are normally being promoted by people who haven't been here in the minority and don't understand how the rules, if intelligently used, can help protect against the tyranny of the majority and cause things to slow down," said retiring Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) a few weeks ago.
Coons said he didn't care if the proposal seems naive to longtime Washington insiders. "There are real concerns that people who serve in the Congress too long become more captive of special interests and the logic of how the Congress works or doesn't work and lose touch with the common-sense concerns of the people of their districts."
"I wonder how his tune is going to change after 12 years in the seat," said Wenhold. "We make very easy scapegoats for people running for election and reelection... But we understand. It's the biannual beatdown."
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