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December 31, 2004
Three Ways To Make Things Worse

House Republicans, getting ready to ride into a new session of Congress with an expanded majority, are planning some major changes to House ethics rules. Astonishingly, these changes don't propose to hold members to higher ethical standards, they seek to make it much, much harder for member to get in any trouble at all. No matter how they try to spin this, don't be fooled, they are simply voting themselves a massive get out of jail free card. And considering the Republican majority, the Democrats won't get to play it.

House Republican leaders are urging members to alter one of the chamber's fundamental ethics rules, which would make it harder for lawmakers to discipline a colleague.

The proposed change would essentially negate a general rule of conduct that the ethics committee has often cited in admonishing lawmakers -- including Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- for bringing discredit on the House even if their behavior was not covered by a specific regulation. Backers of the rule, adopted three decades ago, say it is important because the House's conduct code cannot anticipate every instance of questionable behavior that might reflect poorly on the chamber.

Republicans, returning to the Capitol on Tuesday after increasing their House majority by three seats in the Nov. 2 election, also want to relax a restriction on relatives of lawmakers accepting foreign and domestic trips from groups interested in legislation before the House.

A third proposed rule change would allow either party to stop the House ethics committee from investigating a complaint against a member.

Currently, if the panel, which is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, is deadlocked on a complaint, the matter automatically goes to an investigative subcommittee after 45 days. The proposed change would drop any complaint that is not backed by a majority vote to move it forward.

Washington Post



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