Indicted Rep. Tom DeLay, forced to step down as the No. 2 Republican in the House, scored a soft landing Wednesday as GOP leaders rewarded him with a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee.
DeLay, R-Texas, also claimed a seat on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, which is currently investigating an influence-peddling scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his dealings with lawmakers. The subcommittee also has responsibility over NASA — a top priority for DeLay, since the Johnson Space Center is located in his Houston-area district.
"Allowing Tom DeLay to sit on a committee in charge of giving out money is like putting Michael Brown back in charge of FEMA — Republicans in Congress just can't seem to resist standing by their man," said Bill Burton, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
GOP leaders also named California Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee. Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, vacated that post after winning a campaign to replace DeLay.
McKeon is a seven-term conservative who has a generally good relationship with educators. He authored a 2001 law to remove disincentives for workers who would have lost part of their Social Security benefits when switching jobs to become public school teachers.
DeLay was able to rejoin the powerful Appropriations panel — he was a member until becoming majority leader in 2003 — because of a vacancy created after the resignation of Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif. Cunningham pleaded guilty in November to charges relating to accepting $2.4 million in bribes for government business and other favors.