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NEW HOUSE TEAM INDICATES SAME OLD APPROACH

As House Speaker-designee Bob Livingston talks about quickly wrapping up impeachment hearings and several GOP colleagues back away from trying to oust the president, it might seem that this is indeed a new, more moderate Republican leadership.

Even Democrats are hoping. A top White House aide optimistically noted that "the rancor can be set aside" with Newt Gingrich's announced departure and Livingston's less obstreperous style.

But the public shouldn't get too giddy yet. A more sober look at the new GOP leadership team indicates that the changes in style are not enough to mask the fact that the substance may be more of the same.

It's true that, as Appropriations Committee chairman, Livingston stifled many ideological riders that extremists attached to "must-pass" spending bills. But he killed those blackmail attempts not because he objected to their substance, but only because he wanted to keep the committee train running on time.

It's still an open question whether Livingston will want to -- or be allowed to -- bring that same pragmatism to the speaker's chair. It's worth remembering, after all, that Gingrich was deposed in large measure because of the perception that he was too willing to compromise.

The re-election of belligerent Majority Leader Dick Armey as Livingston's right-hand man certainly was no sign of moderation. True, the caucus didn't elect challenger Steve Largent of Oklahoma, who is even more af an ideologue. But in passing up Washington's Jennifer Dunn, the party sent an unmistakable signal that it's not ready to change.

The re-election of Whip Tom Delay of Texas only reinforced that message. It means that for both the No. 2 and 3 spots in the leadership, not even the packaging changed.

The biggest cosmetic improvement comes in the elevation of Oklahoman J.C. Watts to conference chairman. Watts is easily the most telegenic of the bunch. It also lets the House GOP claim a diversity coup by putting a black in leadership, something Democrats failed to do. But aside from affirmative action, Watts is every bit the right-wing hard-liner.

The fact that this is the leadership team the caucus wanted means the country may not get much in terms of a House majority that's ready to compromise, as it must with such a slim majority and a Democrat in the Oval Office.

In fact, the new year may not ring out very much of the old as Republicans missed a real chance for change. They may have just put new faces on the same old approach.

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