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The Wall Street Journal: McCarthy-negotiated rules package hands Republicans an immediate partisan advantage on Office of Congressional Ethics

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WASHINGTON — House Republicans plan to change the rules of the ethics office charged with investigating lawmakers when the new session of Congress began a week and a half ago. 

See: Republican-led House passes rules package and bill to cut IRS funding

Also read: Some House Republicans signaled opposition to new rules package, voicing concerns over potential for defense spending cuts

The House-rules package that incoming GOP leadership negotiated with intraparty holdouts imposes changes on the Office of Congressional Ethics, or OCE, regarding its board and hiring new staff, potentially limiting the office’s ability to investigate lawmakers. The new rules also allow the House Ethics Committee to take complaints directly from the public. 

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“‘[R]ight from the start you’re giving one side a partisan advantage in a group that should be nonpartisan.’”

— Walter Shaub, Project on Government Oversight, a former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, in MSNBC interview Thursday

The OCE is a nonpartisan, independent body charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against House lawmakers and staff. After it looks into complaints, it then dismisses them or refers them to the House Ethics Committee. While lawmakers from both parties have at times complained that the OCE has too much power, advocates see the office as integral for reviews of complaints about misconduct and criticized the proposed changes. 

“These are measures that will render the ethics office ineffectual and which no member, from either party, should support,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization. 

The rules package released by House Republicans and approved by the House on a partisan basis places term limits on the eight-person OCE board, an action that would remove three of four Democratic board members. The new rules would also limit OCE from hiring any staff after 30 calendar days from when the rules package is approved, meaning the office couldn’t hire new people for two years after a month from Jan. 9. Any new hires after the rules are passed would require approval of four board members. 

An expanded version of this report has appeared at WSJ.com.

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