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It was hard to chase the image of Paulie Cicero from my mind as the latest adventures of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, unfolded last week.

Paulie was the Orca-like syndicate boss in the film, "Goodfellas." He never lost his grip on the gang, in prison or out. Paulie's biggest moment was in the jailhouse where he used a razor blade to slice garlic so thin it dissolved in the pasta sauce. Behind Paulie's funky image was the perpetuation of his menacing control over the flow of money and his people.

Last week, the newly strengthened Republican majority melted under DeLay's glare. DeLay has control on campaign donations to the Republican majority, and therefore he has mastery over his people.

So, in a closed-door and unrecorded vote, the House Republicans insulated DeLay against any criminal indictment that authorities in Texas may bring against him. DeLay associates are under criminal investigation for fund-raising associated with the leader.

The constituents of retiring Reps. Amo Houghton, Jack Quinn and Thomas M. Reynolds, re-elected chairman of the GOP congressional campaign last week, do not know -- and may never know -- whether these men voted to dispense with a 1993 Republican rule stripping a leader of his rank if indicted for a felony offense.

The vote was the only significant business the majority did as it wrapped up one of the most desultory and confusing sessions of Congress in modern times. The safety of the nation and its financial security took a back seat to safeguarding the position of Washington's most blatant link between campaign cash and electoral politics.

The House also deepened the national debt by another $800 billion around midnight Thursday.

While the majority was shielding DeLay, one of his lieutenants was killing key parts of the proposal the 9/1 1 Commission made months ago. The bipartisan panel recommended Congress create a new national intelligence czar -- with power over the Central Intelligence Agency and all other federal spies. It asked that the overall amount of money -- now estimated to be upwards of $30 billion -- be made public.

The Senate overwhelmingly backed these ideas designed to help the nation uncover terrorist plots before they can damage the country. DeLay's House balked because Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld doesn't want anybody telling him what to do with the mammoth, black-budgeted Defense Intelligence Agency.

Accordingly, the key House member in a House-Senate conference called to iron out differences, Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said the public budget number and the proposed czar's power over Rumsfeld's DIA are "non-starters."

Hunter is chairman of Armed Services. Earlier this year, Rumsfeld's procurement people cleared a $900 million shipbuilding contract for Hunter's district. Power and money equals: the people be damned.

Among work this Congress never finished was creation of a permanent House committee to focus oversight on homeland defense. DeLay's cadre of House chairmen didn't want to surrender power over the nearly 170,000 federal employees and procurement contracts blended into the Homeland Security Department. The House does have a toothless temporary committee, whose recommendations are ignored.

Nor did the Congress do anything about the Medicaid laws that are bleeding New York dry, or buttress Medicare or Social Security. However, it did one thing for those two programs -- it made permanent tax cuts that will deepen the two trust funds' problems, and will force even more Medicare cutbacks on payments to hospitals.


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