Democratic representative from New York Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during an event with Democratic members of Congress and national organization members to reintroduce the Paycheck Fairness Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 30, 2019.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

The highest hurdle for the AOC/Cruz bill on lobbying reform

Updated

The chasm that exists between the Democratic and Republican parties makes bipartisan cooperation fairly rare, especially on contentious issues. The more prominent members develop reputations as ideologues, the less likely they are to forge legislative partnerships.

With this in mind, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) might seem like the kind of lawmakers who’d struggle to find common ground. And yet, something interesting happened on Twitter yesterday, after the New York congresswoman highlighted a Public Citizen article on the former federal lawmakers who’ve become lobbyists or taken on related policy-influencing jobs.

“If you are a member of Congress + leave, you shouldn’t be allowed to turn right around&leverage your service for a lobbyist check,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “At minimum there should be a long wait period.”

A short time later, former Republican presidential candidate Cruz tweeted, “Here’s something I don’t say often: on this point, I AGREE with @AOC Indeed, I have long called for a LIFETIME BAN on former Members of Congress becoming lobbyists. The Swamp would hate it, but perhaps a chance for some bipartisan cooperation?”

The freshman Democrat replied “if you’re serious about a clean bill, then I’m down. Let’s make a deal.” She said if they can agree to legislation “with no partisan snuck-in clauses” then “I’ll co-lead the bill with you.”

“You’re on,” Cruz replied.

Soon after, their lobbying-reform proposal gained co-sponsors: Sen. Brian Schatz, a progressive Democrat from Hawaii, announced he’d partner with Cruz to make the bill bipartisan in the upper chamber, while Rep. Chip Roy, a conservative Republican from Texas, said he’d do the same with Ocasio-Cortez in the House.

For reform advocates, this all seemed quite encouraging. Indeed, it almost seemed theatrical – the sort of developments we might see in a “West Wing”-like television show.

But as the back-and-forth unfolded, seven words lurked overhead like a storm cloud:

Mitch McConnell is the Senate Majority Leader.

To be sure, there are other reasons for some skepticism. For one thing, the bill would need the support of politicians who may not be eager to rule out lucrative future employment opportunities. It’d be a tough lift.

For another, writing a bill creating a legal ban on former lawmakers registering as lobbyists is one thing, writing a bill banning them from policy-influencing jobs is something else. Crafting the latter in a comprehensive way – prohibiting former lawmakers from becoming “government affairs” specialists, for example – raises practical and legal concerns that would be difficult to address.

But even if Ocasio-Cortez and Cruz could overcome those hurdles – and as someone who likes their idea, I’d be delighted if they could – the likelihood of Mitch McConnell tolerating such a proposal is zero.

That said, good bills often don’t pass in their first try. This plan’s co-authors deserve credit for getting the ball rolling, and in the process, creating an idea that members and candidates can be asked about during their campaigns.

And if Democrats ever take back the Senate, a bill like this might even see the light of day.

Update: For the last several Congresses, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) has sponsored a bill to prohibit federal lawmakers from ever working as lobbyists after they leave elected office. The bill has not yet passed the chamber.