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Three lawmakers push their ability to reform GOP

WASHINGTON -- Each of the three Republican representatives seeking to replace former majority leader Tom DeLay yesterday claimed to be best positioned to clean up the House in the wake of bribery and influence scandals and discounted their own ties to lobbyists.

Despite Representative Roy Blunt's claims that he has the support of a majority of the House's 231 Republicans, Representatives John Boehner and John Shadegg portrayed the race as active and competitive ahead of the secret balloting during the week of Jan. 29.

The lawmakers defended their associations with lobbyists as appropriate and within ethical guidelines and the law. The representatives, appearing on ''Fox News Sunday," called for changes in lobbying practices but also a return to the GOP agenda of lower taxes, limited spending, and a less-intrusive government.

Blunt, Boehner, and Shadegg share longtime commitments to conservative ideals and experience in party leadership positions. Each is 56 years old and has been in Congress for at least 10 years.

Shadegg, a Republican of Arizona, sought to turn his rivals' experience against them and claimed that ''the level of taint" in his record is dramatically different from theirs. He cited ''the long practices that go on in the House that they've had a chance, particularly, to clean up and haven't cleaned up."

''Everybody here is talking about reform, but we're not doing it," said Shadegg, who stepped aside from his position as the number five person in GOP House leadership when he joined the race on Friday.

''I don't think either one of them understands the consequences of the scandals that have hit Washington," Shadegg said.

Blunt, a Missouri Republican, the GOP whip, and acting majority leader, claimed to have enough votes to ensure victory. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, dismissed that contention as based on polling and said that only the secret ballots to be cast by House members counted. Blunt, pointing to what he called a strong finish by the recent Congress, rejected Boehner's charge that the GOP is endangered by the status quo.

''This is not a party stuck in neutral," Blunt said. ''This is an opportunity for reform."

Boehner said the question to be answered in the race is which candidate can provide leadership to reform the party and Congress and ''renew the confidence and courage of House Republicans."

Changing some of the ways the House does business -- particularly the perception that lawmakers pass legislation benefiting those who have donated to their campaigns -- has become a focal point for party leaders.

DeLay stepped aside as majority leader last fall when he was indicted in Texas on charges of laundering campaign funds. He has been closely linked to Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud, and income tax evasion. House Republicans also have been embarrassed by former representative Randy ''Duke" Cunningham of California, who pleaded guilty in November to charges relating to accepting $2.4 million in bribes for government business and other favors. The corruption scandals threaten the GOP and its majorities in Congress, said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, ''and that's why we're all reformers now."

McCain, appearing yesterday on ''Face the Nation" on CBS, said changes in lobbying will not be effective until lawmakers stop inserting pork-barrel projects or line items in legislation near the end of the process by which Congress passes laws, a practice commonly called ''earmarking." ''Until we fix this earmark system, then you're going to have people who feel, correctly, the only way they can get their project done is to go to a lobbyist who has influence," he said.

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