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GOP Keeps Independent Ethics Committee, Proposes New House Rules

John Boehner, GOP, Republicans
Speaker-designate John Boehner, R-Ohio, talks with media on Capitol Hill in Washington Friday, Dec. 17, 2010.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon) AP Photo/Alex Brandon

House Republicans plan on keeping intact an independent ethics committee next year in spite of complaints some lawmakers have had about the group, according to a summary of the new rules Republicans hope to implement when they take control of the House next year.

A draft of the new rules will soon be released online, and the House will vote on whether to adopt the rules on Jan. 5, the first day of the 112th Congress. The new rules focus largely on transparency and the work of House committees, which are largely responsible for drafting and amending legislation. They also focus on fiscal issues like voting on the debt ceiling and put more emphasis on adherence to the Constitution.

"These reforms represent Republicans' first step in keeping the promises we outlined in the Pledge to America to change the way Washington works and address the people's priorities: creating jobs and cutting spending," incoming House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group that monitors transparency in government, praised the proposed rules and called the GOP's decision to keep the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) "fantastic news."

The OCE is an independent panel of bipartisan, private citizens that investigates lawmakers and has the power to refer ethics cases to the internal House ethics committee. Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created the OCE in 2008, and Boehner and other Republicans voted against its creation. Lawmakers from both parties have complained that the OCE publishes information about its investigations each quarter, regardless of whether the investigations are finished -- painting some politicians in a bad light before they have been found guilty of anything.

Still, the OCE has served as one more check on Congress, which some see as critical given that the House ethics committee can be weighed down by politics.

In a move to further improve House ethics rules, Republicans want to bar former members of Congress from lobbying in the congressional gym.

A number of changes will be made to improve transparency and accountability, such as forcing members to vote when they want to raise the national debt ceiling, versus letting the increase slide by as part of the conference report on the annual budget resolution.

Under the new rules, bills will have to be placed online for three days before they are voted on, and for the first time it will become standard format to publish all legislation electronically.

House Committees will also face new transparency rules. The legislative panels will have to post online all committee votes on a bill markup (the process of amending a bill in committee), publish committee attendance records online, and webcast all of their hearings and markup sessions. The text of any amendments adopted in a markup will also have to be made available online.

The new rules also include Boehner's "Cut Go" proposal, which requires that any increase in mandatory spending be offset with spending cuts elsewhere -- instead of new taxes or debt.

As the GOP also promised, the new rules require that legislators provide citations in all bills to prove that their proposed laws are constitutional. The rules package also calls for the entire Constitution to be read aloud in the House on Jan. 6.

Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.