STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Democrats are hoping to make a campaign issue out of the bribery, lobbying and campaign finance scandals in the Republican-led House of Representatives. Tom DeLay has been forced to step down as majority leader because he's awaiting trial on money-laundering charges. California's Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned after admitting that he took $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. And still others are implicated in the ongoing Justice Department probe of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
Just before the House adjourned last Thursday afternoon for one of its typical five-day weekends, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi got in a sharp jab at Republicans who just pushed through a $56 billion tax cut package over angry Democratic objections. With many of the members still there on the floor, Pelosi had the House clerk read the text of a resolution she just introduced.
Unidentified Woman: (Reading) `Whereas the culture of corruption has so permeated the Republican leadership that they will violate their own rules and customs of decorum of the House to win votes on the floor of the House of Representatives...'
WELNA: It was a reference to how Republican House leaders have held roll call votes open, sometimes for hours, as they worked on getting defiant members to change their votes. Republicans closed ranks and voted unanimously to do away with Pelosi's `culture of corruption' resolution. Moderate Iowa Republican Jim Leach was among those who voted to kill Pelosi's measure, and yet he admitted just off the House floor that the GOP caucus has some serious image problems.
Representative JIM LEACH (Republican, Iowa): I think we're at a low point in the congressional process, and we're also at a fairly low point on several instances of congressional ethics issues.
WELNA: Which is why North Carolina's David Price says he and three other House Democrats last week proposed a roster of rules changes for the House. Price says it takes aim at everything from the two-day workweek to lobbyists flying House members on private planes to provisions being secretly added to legislation just before a vote.
Representative DAVID PRICE (Democrat, North Carolina): Just a whole range of abuses in the way this place is run that have led us to say, `Look, whether we're in charge or whether they're in charge, there need to be some reforms.'
WELNA: Price admits four members of the minority party lack the kind of clout you need to bring about real reform in the House, but he thinks more and more Republicans facing re-election battles next year may become reform-minded themselves.
Rep. PRICE: The scandals yet to come are going to be bigger than what we've seen already, and particularly the Abramoff scandal is going to be one that just is huge, I think. And I believe the Republicans, in spite of themselves, are going to be forced to put forth a serious reform package at some point, and I would hope that what we've done will influence that.
WELNA: But a leading House Republican, Ohio's John Boehner, dismissed Price's reform proposal as little more than political posturing.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): We have made massive reforms in terms of how this institution is run. And while there's always room for improvement, this looks to me like more of a partisan exercise than a sincere effort at reform.
WELNA: Indeed, Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, a co-author of the proposed reforms, says they are meant to show how Democrats would run the House.
Representative BARNEY FRANK (Democrat, Massachusetts): It's supposed to create an issue for the congressional campaign, but also to give people some assurance, including putting pressure on our own colleagues on the Democratic side, that we will be different.
WELNA: Different certainly than the last time House Democrats were in the majority. But just as Republicans accused Democrats then of becoming ethnically challenged after years in power, Democrats are saying the same today about the GOP majority. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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