The smell test

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives approved a change in party rules that is widely regarded by most Democrats and some Republicans as sending the wrong message. Republicans, emboldened by increased House and Senate majorities after this month's elections, replaced a rule that was adopted when the GOP took control of the House after the 1992 elections.

That rule, adopted in 1993, required party leaders who were indicted to step down. The rule was a part of sweeping reforms instituted by the Republicans largely in answer to the questionable ethics of some Democrats at the time.

The new GOP rule, adopted Nov. 18, allows indicted leaders to keep their posts pending the outcome of a review by the Republican Steering Committee. The steering committee would consider whether or not any indictment was considered to be a political ploy by overzealous Democratic state and federal prosecutors.

Democrats said the rule change was made specifically to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. Based on information provided by the district attorney in Austin, Texas, a grand jury has indicted three of DeLay's political associates in connection with fund raising by a political action committee with ties to Delay.

Republicans say the rule change will protect House leaders against indictments motivated by political vendettas, even though no such indictments have occurred during the 11 years the rule that required stepping down was in place.

Democrats who are most outspoken about the GOP rule change should not have to be reminded that their own party had no such rule as the one adopted in 1993 when they held the House majority.

But the few dozen Republicans who expressed concern about the rule change, including Southeast Missouri's Jo Ann Emerson, are correct in observing that the wrong message is being sent. "I think it sets a bad example," Emerson said after the GOP House Caucus voted to change the rule. "I just don't think that it passes the smell test."

-- Southeast Missourian