Dems Change Tack on Ethics Panel Debate

The Democratic leadership has railed against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (search) alleged ethics violations. But now that Republican Ethics Committee Chairman Doc Hastings is offering to open an investigation, Democrats won't take yes for an answer.

"What Mr. Hastings was presenting was a sham. There is no Ethics Committee functioning right now, in terms of reviewing complaints for members," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (search) said during a press briefing with reporters on Thursday.

The panel ceased functioning in January after Democrats decided to boycott the committee to protest rules changes, which among other things, require six out of 10 votes on the committee to extend an investigation beyond the 45-day limit.

Since the committee is evenly split with five members from each party, a lengthy investigation requires crossover support from at least one member of the other party.

Pelosi had been arguing that the rules were changed simply to protect DeLay, but now says the rule changes themselves are the bigger problem.

"Whatever Mr. DeLay's problems are, they're almost minor compared to the abuse of power of the Republicans in terms of the ethics process," she said.

Of course, the boycott also keeps Democrats from being investigated, a point made by House Speaker Dennis Hastert in an interview with FOX News' Sean Hannity on Wednesday.

"We know there's probably four or five cases out there dealing with top-level Democrats. There's a reason that they don't want to go to the ethics process," Hastert said.

In fact, Pelosi was asked on Thursday about a trip she took to Puerto Rico in 2001 to protest Naval exercises on Vieques Island (search). Another lawmaker on the trip, Ohio Democrat Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who serves on the Ethics Committee, filed a report saying a lobbying firm paid for the trip, which is a violation of House ethics rules.

Pelosi bristled at the question that the trip was illegally funded.

"No, there is no discrepancy in the records on my trip. That is all I can answer for. I can only answer for myself," she said.

Tubbs Jones' office told FOX News that her original report on the trip four years ago was simply a mistake. A new report was filed on Thursday.

A former DeLay aide argues that Democrats are far less forgiving when it comes to DeLay, who has been on the hot seat for months. Bob Rusbuldt said Democrats may not really want an investigation of the Republican leader.

"If Tom DeLay is exonerated, they've lost their 'devil incarnate' in the press. And they might not want to have Tom DeLay exonerated or actually know the true facts," he said.

"As long as they can keep someone dangling out there like they have with Tom DeLay, they take great glee in that," Hastert said.

Meanwhile, the House Administration Committee approved a measure on Thursday to increase the ethics panel's budget for the current two-year session of Congress by nearly 40 percent, taking it to $4.3 million. The jump was the largest by far for any panel and nearly double the runner-up.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jim Angle.