They have passed a bill, but have not been able to get agreement on a conference committee. The problem? Senator DeMint (R-S.C.). Ethics Reform means different things in the House and Senate, and each side has put things in their version of the bill that apply only to their own body. Seems simple enough, and there's no reason why the House would mess with the Senate rules, or vice versa.
Except that if one body has a strong ethics measure that the other doesn't want to adopt, that other body might not want to look bad, so they might try to change the rules for the other body in committee.
Senator DeMint is worried that the House conferencees have been instructed to remove some strong Senate rules which would make the House rules look bad (from the Politico):
DeMint backs one of the key reforms the Democrats have promised -- a requirement that members disclose which earmarks they seek and certify that they have no financial interest linked to them.
In fact, he backs it so strongly that he is insisting that the House have no opportunity to alter it in conference, a demand the Democratic leadership calls a smokescreen for an attempt to derail the entire ethics reform project.
Why would this demand be seen as a smokescreen? If the House isn't intending to alter the Senate rule, what would be the problem with such a rule? It seems that DeMint was right, and that the Democrats intend to water down the rules in conference. Then they'll plead that they tried.
DeMint says he supports the lobbying reform provisions in the package. But he isn’t likely to budge until he gets a promise from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the new Senate rules on earmarks won’t be watered down or deleted from the final bill.
The earmark provision is a change in Senate rules, which DeMint argues shouldn’t be part of any conference committee with the House.
“The House has no reason to tinker with Senate rules,” said Wesley Denton, DeMint's spokesman. “The only reason to want to put them in conference is because they intend to change them.”
Meanwhile, there's other "issues":
Behind the scenes, it’s clear many senators are unhappy with a separate proposed requirement that lobbyists disclose how much money they bundle in campaign donations for incumbents and candidates.
Some lobbyists privately warn that they may limit their fundraising roles under such scrutiny.
Given the Abramoff scandal, publicly opposing those new bundling rules could prompt a costly political backlash for any senator.
Of course, the whole point of the ethics reforms was to open up the process so we'd all see what was happening, precisely because some people would straighten up under scrutiny.
So if the light of day is too uncomfortable, that's a good thing.