Relations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress have rarely been worse. But leaders in both parties hope an even bigger fight won't erupt after a Democratic Congressman last week lodged a complaint with the House Ethics Committee against majority leader Tom DeLay. Texas Representative Chris Bell--who lost his seat in a primary last March in a district that had been redrawn by a Republican redistricting plan DeLay helped engineer--charges that one of DeLay's political-action committees illegally funneled corporate money into the 2002 Texas state house races, an allegation that an Austin grand jury is investigating. Bell also accuses DeLay of putting a special provision into a House energy bill for a Kansas utility company in exchange for a $25,000 contribution to that PAC. DeLay insisted "there is no substance" to the charges and dismissed Bell as "a disgruntled member of the House" out for revenge.
Bell's complaint breaks an informal seven-year truce between parties on members of Congress filing such actions against one another, an agreement dating back to the nasty battle that led to the unseating of House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Now the gloves may come off. One DeLay ally has threatened to file retaliatory complaints against Democrats, though DeLay told reporters, "I do not encourage anyone to file complaints." Democratic leaders, who claim they had no role in Bell's action, also were eager to keep the conflict contained. Meanwhile, G.O.P. Representative Ray LaHood of Illinois says he will try to attach an amendment to a funding bill that would retroactively prohibit Bell or any other departing House member from filing an ethics complaint. Says LaHood: "I don't think we should be allowing members to throw a Molotov cocktail as they walk out the door."
--By Douglas Waller