Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Fix Is In Again

Well, now that the Republicans have been handed a mandate to do whatever the hell they want, why not change the rules and get rid of the sticklers for playing by the rules?

In the wake of back-to-back ethics slaps at the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, House Republicans are preparing to make it more difficult to initiate ethics investigations and could remove the Republican chairman who presided over the admonishments of Mr. DeLay last fall.

A House leadership aide said a package of rules changes to be presented to the House when Congress convenes on Tuesday could include a plan that would require a majority vote of the ethics panel to pursue a formal investigation. Now, a deadlock on the panel, which is evenly split between parties, keeps a case pending. The possible change, the aide said, would mean that a tie vote would effectively dismiss the case.

The aide said the change would instill more bipartisanship in ethics cases. But Democrats and outside groups said the proposal would dilute an already weak ethics process.

It remained uncertain whether Representative Joel Hefley of Colorado, the current chairman of the panel, would stay in that post. A spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who would play a chief role in determining the appointment, said no decision had been made.

Many Republicans expressed dissatisfaction with Mr. Hefley after the committee reports critical of Mr. DeLay were issued, saying he had allowed Democrats to score political points against Mr. DeLay for conduct that did not merit such scrutiny.


“The removal of Representative Hefley would constitute a declaration of war against ethics in the House,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that a possible replacement for Mr. Hefley would be Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas and a former member of the panel. Mr. Smith this year contributed $5,000 from his campaign account to Mr. DeLay’s legal defense. Aides said Mr. Smith had not been approached about the post.

In Texas, no bills have been introduced regarding the jurisdictional issues or campaign contributions. But Andrew Taylor, a prominent Republican lawyer in Austin, recently told The Austin American-Statesman that he expected to be lobbying to legalize corporate donations when the Legislature returns in January.

And Texas Republicans have made it clear that they want to transfer the authority for prosecuting the case away from Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney, and give it to Greg Abbott, the state attorney general.

Then right after that they’re going to set fire to the Reichstag and blame the Democrats.