House May Revise Ethics Rules to Address Private Jet Issue

Posted March 8, 2007 at 5:35pm

Bowing to weeks of GOP complaints over an obscure technical problem in the chamber’s new ethics rules, the House Democratic leadership is considering reopening portions of the guidelines — a move Republicans hope will provide enough cover to take aim at earmark reform and other measures the minority claims were poorly written.

A Democratic aide said late Thursday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and leaders on both sides of the aisle continue to scrap over how to mend portions of the rules overhaul dealing with air travel restrictions — a portion of the resolution Democrats have long acknowledged was not carefully drafted.

“Both sides realize that this is something that needs to be fixed, that the regular language was probably not ideally written,” the Democratic aide said. “But obviously they’re more interested in scoring political points out of it.”

Following through on midterm campaign promises, Democrats included in their new rules passed in January a provision that intended to force Members to fly exclusively on commercial or government aircraft.

But language in the rules also inadvertently grounded Members who are private pilots or those who ride on small airplanes for constituent work, stoking outrage in the small bipartisan group affected by the mistake.

Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to clarify the measure’s language on the House floor and the chamber’s ethics committee has warned Members that travel on all non-commercial aircraft is banned.

And fixing the language is easier said then done, Republicans say, requiring the matter to go through regular order, a procedural move they intend to use to voice criticism of Democratic-written earmark reforms.

“The Democrats are learning that its harder to write an ethics rule than it is to make a campaign promise,” said a Republican aide. “[Democrats promised], ‘We’re going to ban corporate jet travel,’ but when it comes down to writing a rule that isn’t overly restrictive — that at the same time fulfills their campaign promises — they’re really getting torn in terms of how they can write this correctly.”

Republicans “don’t just want to do the airplane fix, they want to at least have a discussion about other things,” the aide continued.

Democrats acknowledge that they may have little choice in the end but to yield to Republicans’ maneuvering.

“We’re looking for an appropriate vehicle or the appropriate time to do it,” a Democratic aide said. “It could be done on its own.”