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A Brewing Battle Over House Committee Assignments

Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives are involved in an increasingly bitter skirmish over one of the most routine congressional acts -- approving committee assignments.

Yesterday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that senior Republicans had approved Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) to take a seat on the Appropriations Committee, one of the most sought-after assignments on Capitol Hill.

Calvert is expected to fill the vacancy created by Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who left the panel after the FBI raided his home as part of an investigation into his wife's business connections to lobbyists. This comes as Republicans are still smarting from losing more than a handful of seats last fall that are directly attributable to ethical or legal questions related to longtime incumbents.

But questions have also been raised about a provision Calvert pushed that would upgrade a highway near property he co-owns, leading to accusations he pushed the measure for his own benefit. Some media reports have indicated a local grand jury is examining one of the land purchases that Calvert's business group was involved in, specifically probing whether the previously public land was sold appropriately.

Boehner acknowledged that ethics came up when the senior Republicans, known as the steering committee, met behind closed doors to weigh the Appropriations decision. "Congressman Calvert answered every question asked of him by the steering committee. It was a candid and frank conversation, and the members of the committee were satisfied with his answers," Boehner said.

But Democrats have yet to indicate whether they'll allow the usually perfunctory voice vote to approve Calvert's ascension, according to two senior Democratic strategists. And the House Democrats' campaign arm used the Calvert appointment to attack Boehner's pledge at the start of the 110th Congress to take swift action against GOP caucus members involved in ethical investigations.

"Evidently, John Boehner's idea of restoring ethical standards to Congress is replacing one investigated Republican with another," said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Isn't there a single member of the Republican conference not under investigation who would be better suited for the Appropriations seat than Ken Calvert?"

The dust-up over Calvert's spot on Appropriations comes just three months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried to appoint embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) to the Homeland Security Committee. Jefferson was infamously caught on tape, according to the FBI, accepting $100,000 from a businesswoman seeking help for trade deals in Africa, and $90,000 was found in his freezer shortly afterward during an FBI raid of his home in the summer of 2005.

While Pelosi ushered Jefferson off the coveted Ways and Means Committee last year, Republicans objected to the new Jefferson appointment to the sensitive Homeland Security Committee and vowed to force a recorded vote on his committee assignment if Pelosi brought it to the floor.

That objection has left the Jefferson assignment in legislative limbo, with Democrats privately acknowledging a reluctance to cast votes for a colleague whom they view as having been caught in an obvious ethical transgression, if not much worse.

Republicans are privately angry at any comparison of Calvert to Jefferson, who has had a former top staffer plead guilty in the investigation and another businessman pleaded guilty to bribing the lawmaker in exchange for help with additional trade deals. They note that Calvert hasn't even retained a criminal lawyer and that the earmark in question for the highway was requested by some local officials.

But the Appropriations Committee has been at the center of most congressional scandals of the past three years, from imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff dubbing the panel a "favor factory" to imprisoned former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) steering tens of millions of dollars in so-called earmarks to contractors who provided him with more than $2.4 million in bribes.

This recent history put every appointment to Appropriations under the ethics microscope. So, ultimately, Republicans and Democrats may have to actually cast votes to determine Calvert and Jefferson's committee futures.

By Paul Kane  |  May 10, 2007; 8:15 AM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules , House  
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Comments

If the Senior Republicans who questioned him are satisfied, they ought to let Democratic lawmakers also question him, or provide transcripts if they exist.
Given the importance of the appropriations committee, and the recent scandals, even a hint of scandal should be avoided. Calvert may be the right man for the job, but Republicans should be transparent about the appointment, and provide the Democrats with an chance to satisfy themselves about Calvert, and equally importantly, the Democrats should give them the opportunity to do so.

Posted by: Oso Dorado | May 10, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Yo,

Coruption is coruption.
We sometimes forget that We The People are the government. This country is an experiment in self-governance. The people who are corupted by the system should be held accountable.

It seems that the cynical Reagan years and post-Reagan years has undermined the trust of the people in government and the ability for the American people to be self-governing.

I ask this of the "Power Brokers in the Beltway Land of OZ", that includes You WA-POST: Do you really know what happens when a country's people loses its trust in its form of governance? Ask Tim McVeigh. Ask
the Russian nobility. Ask the Founding Fathers of this nation.

Do you really want the country to go through that doorway? Do you really want another ToJo, Hitler,or Stalin perhaps?

Be careful of what you wish for. Trust is all we have in life, liberty, happiness, and the American Way. You give your word and your word is your deed in the America I know.

Harvey Williamson

Posted by: Harvey Williamson | May 10, 2007 1:42 PM | Report abuse

While we can point fingers at one or the other of the party appointee's we must also remember the Rep. Pelosi and Rep. Boxer have been accused of funneling funds to companies that their husbands own, Calif is a joint property state, the last election was mainly about corruption and not the war as some seem to think.
Glad to see that Rep. Jefferson was about to be appointed to a commitee that has the pursestrings for the F.B.I. funding and has not been confirmed yet. There is enough corruption to go around on both sides of the house and Senate, perhaps we need to realize that they all need to be voted out of office. If california is the land of nuts and flakes D.C. must be the land of manure and methane!

Posted by: h1m912009 | May 10, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Any member of Congress who has been corrupted should not be allowed to serve. But that would mean all members would be thrown out and a whole new membership voted in! The entire congress is corrupt! Let's vote out all the present members!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 11, 2007 2:45 AM | Report abuse

This country is not an "experiment in self governance"-we elect people to govern for us, and most important legislation is pushed by corporate lobbies.

Add to the above, most citizens do not vote, in the first instance. Most important pieces of legislation are not put to the public for a vote. We vote for people we think we might "like"-the various pieves of legislation these legislators push, once in office, is often unnoticed by the public.

Anyone pay attention to the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005? It was funded by

Posted by: Carl | May 15, 2007 2:12 PM | Report abuse

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