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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 5, 2005
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EDITORIAL

GOP keeps ethics rule for the wrong reasons

Late last year, House Republicans stirred up a storm that threatened as much destruction as a Texas tornado when they came to the aid of Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Mr. DeLay ran into trouble back home with a Texas grand jury that didn't like the way he and some associates did fund-raising and involved themselves in redrawing congressional lines in a way that almost guaranteed election of more Republicans.

As he does in Congress, Mr. DeLay roughed up Texas Democrats with his tactics.

With that background, the House GOP changed an ethics rule that had required any person in a leadership role must step down temporarily if indicted, which he thought was about to happen to him.

Mr. DeLay is so powerful and feared in Congress, getting the rule changed to allow him to continue exercising his power met little, but fierce, opposition within the party.

Democrats, of course, and good-government groups, however, said changing the rule was egregious.

Now, with the new Congress in session and with the rules' change supposedly threatening priority legislation, Mr. DeLay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert are rescinding the change. The result is that Rep. DeLay will be subject to the same conditions for leadership as other members.

The impression is that Rep. Tom DeLay is willing to sacrifice himself to Democratic politics so the party's legislation has a better chance of passing.

That sounds noble until you hear Mr. DeLay's other reason for capitulation:

The Texas grand jury has indicted three of his associates on fund-raising violations, and he is now confident the alleged scandal won't reach him.

Republicans, however, are watering down other good-government ethics rules that caused Mr. DeLay embarrassment but won't be as controversial.

The Democratic take on Mr. DeLay's failed attempt to shield himself from the leadership rule was that "the issue simply became too hot for them to handle."

Even when politicians do the right thing for the wrong reason, the public sometimes comes out ahead. With the other ethics changes, however, that is doubtful in this instance.

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