Four House ethics committee Republicans yesterday tried but failed to break a deadlock over controversial new ethics rules by offering to modify them slightly and to initiate an inquiry into House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's controversial foreign trips and relations with lobbyists.Close - at least she pointed out that the bone of contention among the Democrats on the ethics committee is the "controversial ethics rules." It's a little better than Mike Allen's piece in the Washington Post:
If Democrats had agreed to the GOP compromise, Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Bradford Woods, a new committee member, would have led an ethics subcommittee charged with investigating DeLay, R-Texas.
House Republicans yesterday offered to open an investigation into overseas travel and other activities by Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), as part of an effort to resolve a three-month impasse with the Democrats that has kept the ethics committee from functioning.Reading Allen's piece, you'd have no idea what the impasse is about. Seating arrangements? Choice of restaurants? The forced acceptence of new Republican concocted ethics rules designed to protect the House's most corrupt member? Which do you think?
But let's get back to our hometown paper.
But it wasn't only Democrats who cast Hastert's actions as retribution. The New York Times reported on 4/14/2005 that a group of former GOP representatives sent a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert saying that:
Hart was appointed to the panel -- formally called the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct -- earlier this year, when House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., replaced its chairman, Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., and two other GOP members. Democrats cast Hastert's action as retribution against party members on the panel. Last year, the panel admonished DeLay three times for his conduct, even though it did not find that he had broken House rules.
House members all. Republicans all.
We felt grave concern when the Republican leadership changed the ethics rules several weeks ago to require a bipartisan majority vote to even investigate a charge of ethical misconduct. We saw it as an obvious action to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay who had been admonished three times by the Ethics Committee for well-publicized misuse of money and/or power.
We felt even greater concern when the leadership then fired Chairman Joel Hefley and two other members of the Committee, replacing them with Members who had either given to or received funds from Mr. DeLay.
We respectfully suggest it would be good for the party and the country if the Republican majority were to join Chris Shays of Connecticut in voting to reinstate the old rules.
Two new GOP members have contributed to DeLay's legal defense fund: Texas Rep. Lamar Smith -- who did not appear with other members at yesterday's news conference announcing the prospective inquiry -- gave the majority leader's defense committee $10,000, and Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole donated $5,000.
Rep. Tom DeLayBut Hart has not donated any money to DeLay's fund.
All this is true, but it fails to note how much money Representative Hart has received from Tom Delay's PAC. We've already blogged on it here. Nor that she voted for the so-called "Delay Rule change" so she can scarely be trusted to be completely independent, can she? For those who don't (or won't) remember, the change would have allowed a committee head to retain his/her position even if indicted by a State Grand Jury.
Reston touches on, but never delves deeply enough into why the Democrats don't like the Ethics Committee's rule changes. She says:
One rule allows any complaint against a member to be dismissed within 45 days if there is no committee action or if there is a tie vote on whether to proceed. (The ethics committee is the only congressional panel divided evenly; it has five members from each party.)But take a look at that. If there's a tie vote in the evenly divided committee, then no action can be taken. That means that if, for example (and I am just - yknow - pulling this out of no where), one party's members of the Ethics Committee are all extremely loyal, or at least bought and paid for, and an ethics charge bubbles up about a powerful member of that party, this new fangled "Ethics" rule can effectively shut down any investigation before it begins. Now why do you think the Republicans would impose such a rule?
More importantly, why would they appoint Melissa Hart to be on such a committee?