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GOP Blinks on Ethics Changes

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.

Members would also be granted an additional opportunity to appear before the ethics committee if it finds a violation of the Code of Conduct, a change that Republicans say is needed to restore “the presumption of innocence” for lawmakers.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) is also seeking to alter House gift rules so that Members and staff can take their spouses and minor children on official trips paid for by outside groups.

Democrats had planned to pounce on the proposed ethics rules changes as proof that Republicans have lost touch with the American people after 10 years in power and are under the control of powerful special-interest groups. Democratic insiders would not reveal what their leadership planned to do, and it is unclear what impact the Republican moves on Monday night would have. But Democrats were expected to focus on allegations of “corruption, ethics violations and hypocrisy” by the Republican majority, according to a senior House Democratic aide.

One House rules change that was approved by the GOP Conference on Monday night was a proposal by Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) to allow Members to include remarks on the Senate and Senators during floor debate. It has been a longstanding policy that Members can only refer to the “other body” during floor debate.

The other marquee move this week for House Republicans will be the Steering Committee’s selection of the next Appropriations chairman.

Three senior panel members — Reps. Ralph Regula (Ohio), Jerry Lewis (Calif.) and Hal Rogers (Ky.), in that order of seniority — are in the running to replace outgoing Chairman Bill Young (Fla.), who was forced by term limits to surrender the gavel.

All three lawmakers appeared before the Steering Committee on Monday afternoon, and a decision is expected of that panel by Wednesday, after which the entire Conference will vote on the chairman and subcommittee chairmen.

Amy Keller and Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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