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Published: Monday, 2/6/2006

New face, same story

The new House majority leader comes with old baggage. The Republicans' selection of U.S. Rep. John Boehner of Ohio to replace the indicted Rep. Tom DeLay shows the party's rally around reform is just election year lip service.

The Cincinnati-area lawmaker, who once handed out campaign contributions from Big Tobacco on the floor of the House, is as steeped in the money politics of Washington as his disgraced colleagues.

He and his closest rival in the party election, acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt of Missouri, are both pros at raising millions and doling out contributions to party members to solidify influence. Both have also received substantial amounts of money either directly or indirectly from the now infamous ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff - and defended the donations as perfectly legal and acceptable.

Perhaps they were, but a leader without such well-established money trails like Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona might have represented the clean break the GOP needed to distance itself from the recent spate of scandals.

Instead of the more pro-reform candidate, party members went with one of Mr. DeLay's early leadership picks who has performed especially well in Washington's pay-to-play system. Even as Mr. Boehner assumes the second-highest party post in the House, his close ties to the special-interest community are coming under increased scrutiny.

Two industries in particular, for-profit academic institutions and the private student-loan industry have given tens of thousands of dollars to the West Chester politician who, as chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, has championed legislation that would boost industry profits big time.

The House GOP had a chance to do more than just ride out the ethics storm swirling around Capitol Hill but chose to stick with more of the same. So much for reform.

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