- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner is considering delaying the appointment of members to a new outside ethics board for House members until a disputed vote count related to the panel’s creation is resolved, aides said yesterday.

Republicans almost succeeded in killing the measure Tuesday night, losing by just one vote on a 207-206 procedural vote to consider the matter. Republicans accused Democratic leaders of violating House rules by allowing the vote to remain open for several extra minutes while they persuaded wavering Democrats to support the proposal.

“Democratic leaders campaigned on ‘ethics reform,’ yet tonight they violated their own ethics rules for partisan, political gain,” said Mr. Boehner moments after a final vote for the board passed 229-182 late Tuesday. “Sadly, this is just the latest in a long line of abuses” by House Democrats.

An aide to Mr. Boehner said yesterday that he doesn’t expect the minority leader to cooperate with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, in appointing members to the board anytime soon and that Mr. Boehner is “still evaluating” how to proceed with the matter.

Mr. Boehner has complained that an outside board would not have the “secrecy and accountability that’s necessary to ensure that members’ reputations aren’t drug through the mud by some partisan charge that may have no basis in fact at all.”

He added: “I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind would want to serve on this outside panel because of the fighting that’s going to occur, not by members but by partisan groups on both sides who are going to want to file frivolous complaints.”

Mrs. Pelosi, who had pushed hard for the Democrat-crafted measure, said an independent panel would do much to restore the House’s tarnished image.

The measure calls for the creation of an independent office to investigate ethical lapses among its members. The board would be charged with looking into suspected misconduct and making recommendations to the House ethics committee, which still would have final say on issues of guilt or innocence.

The six-member board is to be appointed evenly by the speaker and the minority leader. House members, federal employees and lobbyists would not be eligible.

Democratic leaders had planned to bring up the proposal two weeks ago but pulled the bill in the face of Republican opposition and dissatisfaction among some Democrats, who either disliked the independent office or who said it would be too weak because it lacked subpoena powers.

But Mrs. Pelosi said the creation of a panel “is a reasonable step forward.”

Several government watchdog groups also praised the proposal, saying that similar independent oversight boards have been successful at the state level.

“Now we just have to make sure the [board] doesn’t get torpedoed by the same folks who fought against it,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar.

The League of Women Voters, however, said that without subpoena power, the board will be significantly handcuffed.

“This proposal will prove to be inadequate and will have to be revisited, probably when the next wave of public scandals arrives,” said Mary G. Wilson, national president of the League of Women Voters.

The rules change affects only the House. There has been little support in the Senate for an outside ethics board.

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