House Republicans manage to delay vote on ethics reform legislation

By James Kuhnhenn
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - House Republican leaders on Thursday narrowly defused a revolt within their ranks that would have killed lobby and ethics legislation, but then delayed a final vote on the package until next week.

The legislation still faces broad, if not unanimous, opposition from Democrats and a handful of Republican moderates who say the legislation falls far short of what Congress needs to remove the stain of scandal rising from recent criminal convictions for influence-peddling.

The legislative package, which will be voted on Tuesday, restricts some congressional travel, requires more frequent public disclosure of lobbying activity and forces public identification of sponsors of special-interest "earmarks" inserted into spending bills.

The measure's defeat would have been an embarrassing setback for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Both vowed to tackle ethics and lobbying legislation in the wake of guilty pleas for corruption by disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif.

Allegations of influence-peddling also have spilled into Democratic ranks. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., had to step down recently as the top Democrat on the House ethics committee after publicity stirred controversy over spending provisions that he'd inserted into legislation benefiting his friends and business associates.

House Republican appropriators, the lawmakers who draft spending bills, had threatened to vote against the legislation because they objected to its restrictions on "earmarks," the special spending items that members of Congress routinely insert into appropriations bills to benefit constituents. The appropriators said it wasn't fair to restrict such items only in appropriations bills and not in tax or policy legislation.

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