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Page Reform Delayed By Pre-election Politics

In the days after the page scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) broke, Members of Congress offered ideas for “page reform” that included everything from suspending the age-old program to a “zero-tolerance policy” for inappropriate interaction between lawmakers and the high school students.

The proposals varied, but most carried a sense of urgency, that something needed to be done immediately to protect the teenagers who come to Capitol Hill to live and learn.

Yet three weeks out from Foley’s resignation, it seems that reform has gotten bogged down in pre-election politics. Charges of politicizing the page program continue to fly as reform ideas — including a package developed by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that was sent to the chairmen of two House committees — can’t move forward until Congress returns for a lame-duck session.

After Rep. Dale Kildee (Mich.), the only Democratic lawmaker on the five-member House Page Board, told reporters this week that the panel has been discussing allegations of page-related misconduct involving a second Member of Congress, one GOP leadership aide accused Kildee of “leaking sensitive information out from the page board to get political traction for the Democrats. They are using the page program as a political weapon.”

Here’s where reform efforts stand right now: The idea of sending the pages home immediately seems to have been taken off the table, and the Clerk of House has set up a hotline for current or former pages to use to report any concerns regarding their safety and security. But it seems that other ideas are being shelved as those who oversee the page program wait for the completion of the various investigations of the system, Foley and the second Member — believed to be retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.).

Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), an institutionalist who proposed suspending the program just days after the Foley scandal broke, seems to have accepted that his idea didn’t fly.

“I believe that my suggestion earlier on to suspend the program temporarily and send the pages home would have sent a very good message that we know that the program is flawed and we don’t want to continue a program that is flawed and we don’t really want these pages exposed to Members of Congress who are taking advantage of them,” LaHood said. “Obviously that hasn’t resonated with people, so I will have to be satisfied with the fact that there will be an evaluation of the program” with the assistance of outside experts.

A week after Foley resigned from office, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) put forward the idea of bringing in former FBI Director Louis Freeh to oversee a full examination of the page program and study how students are protected. But that effort has stalled, at least for the foreseeable future, as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has questioned whether using Freeh would be an appropriate move.

“We’ve been trying to work with the Democratic leadership, but it looks like it’s going to be difficult before the election,” Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said this week. “We are working to get Louis Freeh to take charge of the security revamping and take charge of new security measures around the page program, but unfortunately Leader Pelosi has blocked it.”

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