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GOP Blinks on Ethics Changes

“I think there are some in leadership who think they can do anything they want,” Shays said before the leadership reversal. “[DeLay] should say this is crazy, this is hurting our party.”

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It was expected that LaTourette’s proposal was going to be substantially revised or withdrawn during the Republican gathering, according to GOP sources.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.

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