Thursday, February 9, 2006

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — House Republicans will get a refresher course on ethics tomorrow as part of their three-day retreat to discuss lobby and ethics reforms and try to clarify a vision for 2006.

Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, chairman of the ethics committee, will review the code of conduct for the 180 Republicans who have gathered at a conference center on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

They will hear a pep talk from President Bush today.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman told the lawmakers yesterday that Democrats are failing to capitalize on Republican ethics questions ahead of difficult midterm congressional elections in November.

Mr. Mehlman said politics is supposed to be a zero-sum situation: If one party is doing poorly, the other does well. But Republicans’ travails have not helped Democrats, he said.

“The law of political physics is being defied by Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean and Harry Reid,” he said, referring to the top Democrats in the House, the national party and the Senate.

Mr. Mehlman said more of the electorate is voting based on ideology, providing a cushion for the president’s lower approval numbers and a general feeling that the country is moving in the wrong direction.

Rep. David Dreier of California, chairman of the Rules Committee, rejected calls by Democrats and some Republicans to alter the way the House debates and votes, including lag time to read legislation and a time limit on floor votes.

The current rules set a minimum but not a maximum time limit.

The Republican leadership has been accused of abusing the rule, most notably in the 2003 vote on the Medicare prescription-drug legislation.

That three-hour vote included heavy persuasion, and the ethics committee admonished Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, for the appearance of trying to strong-arm a Republican colleague.

Top House Democrats wrote a letter calling for fewer “closed rules” that prevent amendments and a requirement that measures be available for 24 hours before they are brought up for a floor vote.

Mr. Dreier told reporters that Republicans already allow Democrats to have a substitute on most bills, and said more Democratic amendments were allowed last year than Republican amendments.

Although Republicans want reforms to be bipartisan, he said, their priority is “moving the Republican agenda.”

“There’s no reason in the world we should be tying hands,” Mr. Dreier said.

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