Good-government groups are trashing House Republicans, but let it be noted that a few of those lawmakers boldly stood up to their powerful majority leader, Tom DeLay of Texas, last week.
In an unrecorded voice vote conducted behind closed doors Wednesday, Republican House members changed an 11-year-old rule that required party leaders to step aside if indicted on felony charges. The change will allow DeLay to keep his leadership post in case a Texas grand jury -- which has indicted three of his political associates -- targets him next.
Lawmakers said a handful of members spoke against the rule during the debate, and perhaps three dozen or so said "nay" when the vote was called. Among those who publicly acknowledged their opposition were Connecticut's three GOP representatives -- Christopher Shays, Rob Simmons and Nancy L. Johnson -- the Hartford Courant reported.
"A rule is a rule, and there's no need to change it," Simmons told the newspaper. Shays called the vote "a mistake," and said he reminded colleagues that Republicans in the early 1990s had vowed to run a more ethical Congress.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) spoke against the rule change during the debate but was at a hearing when the vote was called, his office said.
Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) said the rule change had merit, but the timing was wrong. "It looks as if we're trying to protect one of our own," he said, "and I don't think that's appropriate." Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said he opposed the rule change but understood that many of his colleagues feel indebted to DeLay for helping increase the GOP majority.
Shays, who spoke with reporters at length about his opposition, won no plaudits from Democrats. "He grandstands outside by saying he didn't approve of the rules change," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Friday. "He could have, with one word, called for a vote in the Republican Conference . . . but instead he chose to meekly voice his position."
Shays, it appears, will not be attending the DeLay or Pelosi holiday parties this year.
Medicare Politics of Convenience
President Bush may be proud of the Medicare prescription drug law he signed a year ago, but not everyone in his party thinks it's a political winner.
"The program does very little to help seniors and really benefits big drug companies," according to a brochure sent by the Utah Republican Party. "So why did Jim Matheson vote to give $500 billion to big drug companies?"
The mailing was part of the GOP's effort to unseat Rep. Jim Matheson, the only Democrat in the Utah delegation. Matheson was hardly alone on the Medicare legislation, however; the state's two Republican senators and two Republican congressmen all voted in favor of the Bush bill.
Matheson has been so in sync with Bush and the GOP, one would expect his Democratic Party to be squawking. Siding with the White House, he opposed efforts to allow legal importation of lower-priced prescription drugs from other countries such as Canada. But the Republican flier rapped him for that, too.
"And Jim Matheson voted against allowing seniors to access more affordable drugs in Canada," the brochure complained.
Matheson, son of a popular former Utah governor, defeated Republican John Swallow, 55 percent to 43 percent.
Learning to Like Stem Cell Research
The more Bush supporters know about embryonic stem cell research, the more inclined they are to press for a broader federal policy, concludes a post-election survey conducted for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Three years ago, the president limited federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to a few dozen existing cell lines, a policy many scientists say has hampered progress in developing treatments for conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injury.
The poll of 800 Bush voters found that as people learned more about the science and ways to impose ethical guidelines on it, support climbed higher.
In a baseline question, 25 percent of Bush voters backed studies involving 5-day-old human embryos, and 33 percent were against. But when told that the science would be on "excess" embryos donated from fertility clinics that would otherwise be discarded, 52 percent of Bush voters said they would support the research and 42 percent were opposed.
The findings suggest that with an aggressive educational campaign, "you can get a majority of Bush voters to support an expanded policy," said pollster Bob Moran of Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates.