Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) defended the proposal, one of several that GOP leaders want to implement to alter the ethics process.
Specifically, Hastert said he was uncomfortable with the idea that a lawmaker could be reprimanded for an “accumulation of conduct” without having specifically violated any written laws or House rules, as was the case with DeLay last year.
Members “need to know what the parameters are before they cross it,” Hastert told reporters Monday afternoon.
Hastert is expected to make an announcement later this week that he will replace Hefley as ethics chairman, a position in which he is up against term limits but could be granted a waiver, and the Colorado Republican’s opposition to the ethics revisions is another sign that his ouster from the panel is imminent, according to GOP insiders.
In the wake of high-profile investigations of DeLay last year, House GOP leaders have been seeking to modify the ethics rules in ways that will make it more difficult for Members or the committee itself to consider “frivolous” complaints or initiate probes.
Hastert said he was familiar with another proposal offered by Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) that would allow the ethics committee to rebuke Members in private letters, unlike the public admonishments DeLay received. Hastert said the entire Conference would “talk about and look at” the issue during a meeting last night.
It was expected that LaTourette’s proposal was going to be substantially revised or withdrawn during the Republican gathering, according to GOP sources.
The rules package to be offered by Republican leaders today will include a proposal to create a permanent Homeland Security Committee, altering the status of the existing panel, currently a “select” committee established under Hastert’s authority and due to expire at the end of the 108th Congress. Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) is expected to retain his chairmanship of the panel. Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) is in line to take over the Republican Policy Committee from Cox.
Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) are among those opposed to permanent status for the Homeland Security panel and are pushing for changes to limit its authority.
GOP conservatives, meanwhile, are lobbying for a series of changes to budget rules that would make it more difficult to increase federal spending, which has soared since President Bush took office. Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) is opposed to a provision in the rules package calling for the creation of a joint committee with the Senate to review the Congressional budget process.
But the ethics revisions are by far the highest-profile changes to House rules slated to be unveiled Tuesday.
Chief among them was to be a revision to the use of Rule XXIII of the House, which requires Members to conduct themselves “at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.” The original proposed rule revision would have prohibited the use of this language as authority for the ethics committee to take action against a lawmaker when no specific violations of other rules or laws are found. The ethics committee employed that authority to admonish DeLay last year following a complaint by former Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas).
In addition, GOP leaders want to rewrite an ethics rule that triggers an automatic investigation if the chairman and ranking member cannot agree on how to handle a complaint. Under current ethics committee rules, the chairman and ranking member have up to 90 days to conduct such a review, and an investigative subcommittee is triggered if they fail to agree on what step to take. The new proposal would alter that rule so that the full committee must vote affirmatively to proceed with an investigation. This proposal was still expected to be included in Tuesday’s rules package.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson appears at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church on M Street Northwest for a pre-rally before a march to the White House to protest what is seen as President Barack Obama's lack of action in addressing a variety of problems in black communities.
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