- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

The race to become House Republicans’ floor leader officially began yesterday with Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio announcing that he will run against acting leader Roy Blunt of Missouri in an effort to try to shake up the party.

“We need to engage in a bit of renewal,” Mr. Boehner said in a letter to his colleagues that talked about his ouster as conference chairman seven years ago and his own renewal as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee. Mr. Boehner called for a return to “smaller, more accountable government and of a society deeply rooted in principles of personal responsibility, faith in the future, and freedom.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Blunt, who has been acting leader for three months, is shaping up as the candidate pushing for continuity. He sent out his own letter that began by citing former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who announced Saturday that he would permanently relinquish the position.

“Tom DeLay put it best when he reminded us that as a unified team, our Republican Conference is unstoppable,” Mr. Blunt wrote. “We need to remind the American people of our vision for a freer, safer and more prosperous America.”

Already, a difference between the two emerged over lobbying reform, a hot topic among many members in the wake of guilty pleas by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert yesterday committed to having the House vote on reforms when members return from winter break.

“Now is the time for action,” Mr. Hastert said, although whether those reforms will be internal congressional rules changes or new laws is still up in the air.

Mr. Hastert canceled his part in a congressional delegation headed to Asia in the next couple of weeks and will instead be in Washington tomorrow and Wednesday to work on the issue with Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee, whom he has given the task of leading the reform effort.

But Mr. Boehner said the current system works and pointed to Abramoff’s guilty plea as an indication of that.

“Adding more new rules isn’t the answer,” Mr. Boehner told the Fox News Channel.

Mr. Blunt, however, has made lobbying reform a key part of his pitch to fellow members, a position he emphasized in his letter.

“It will be difficult to move forward with our platform until we regain the trust and confidence of our constituents by enacting new lobbying reforms and enhanced penalties for those who break the public trust,” Mr. Blunt wrote.

Delaware Rep. Michael N. Castle, a leading Republican centrist, said the chance to get the House ethics committee up and running and change lobbying rules is the “the silver lining in all of this — we may get some real reforms.”

He said the leadership election is both about establishing permanent leadership — Mr. Blunt, the majority whip, has been acting leader since Sept. 28 — and about the party’s direction.

Mr. Castle also said a winner should become clear long before the actual election, which is expected the week of Jan. 30.

“I bet this election’s over by about five tomorrow. It’s going on fast and furious today,” he said.

Mr. Blunt had committed to calling all 231 Republicans in the House and asking for their support, while Mr. Boehner’s office last night sent out an e-mail to reporters touting the congressman’s conservative credentials and noting that according to many key groups’ scorecards, Mr. Boehner is rated equally or more conservative than Mr. Blunt.

There also might be an election for the majority whip’s slot, although several congressional sources said that will happen only if Mr. Blunt wins the leader’s post.

Rep. Eric Cantor, currently the appointed chief deputy majority whip, is running for that slot, and a source close to Mr. Cantor yesterday said the Virginia Republican had 105 commitments from fellow Republicans as of late in the afternoon.

It will take 116 votes, a majority of House Republicans, to win an open position.

cAudrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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