A MAJORITY of the House of Representatives has has enough "reforming" for a while. That became obvious on Wednesday when the lawmakers internal management changes advanced by speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. and the special commission led by Rep. David R. Obey(D-Wis.). What is not yet so clear is how extensive the anti-"reform" sentiment is, or what this one defeat Portends for the general effort to improve the operations and ethical standards of the House.
One reason for not generalizing too much is that the bill had some big problems. While most of its provisions were constructive, in our view, it was a compromise and vulnerable to the critism that it would create new administrative offices and cost more money without solving all of the management problems of the House. Beyond that, the bill stirred up a lot of factions - committee chairmen opposed to various threats to their domains, Republicans who balked at increasing the Speaker's power, and diverse critics of the rather toothless plan for curbing discriminatory employment practices. Finally, Messers. O'Neill and Obey virtually invited all these forces to come together by proposing terms for floor debate that would have sharply limited amendments to the bill.
For all that, Wednesday's vote was more than a rejection of a flawed aand somewhat mismanaged bill. It also reflected what the Speaker called a "wave of resentment" started by earlier reform moves and swelled by the fuss over the just-released report on members uses of their new expense allowances. There is some irony in this since the allowances themselves were a reform. They were provided so that members could pay their official expenses from official funds instead of campaign coffers, private "slush funds" of their own pockets. The principle is sound. The problem is that some incumbents have billes the taxpayers for memberships in political clubs, promotional pictures, auto rentals and repairs, flowers for various occasions, and other items that may or may not be relevant to congressional business, strictly defined.
We don't want to prolong the quibbling about whether a congressman should have spent a particular sum in a particular way. As we have said before, the lines are hard to draw; the House has not set detailed guideliness, and some disagreements are as inevitable as the fight over the propriety of tax deductions for business lunches. We has hoped, however, that mor House members - knowing from the start that their expenses would be disclosed - would be prepared not only to justify and defend their outlays sentiment, at least on Wednesday, seemed to be annoyance at the requirements for disclosure and accountability.
The big question is how deep that resentment runs. It is no secret that some representatives are still fiercely opposed to detailed financial disclosure, tight curbs on outside incomes and other provisions in the tough ethics code that Speaker, Rep. Obey and others pushed through the House last spring. Before this Congress is over next year, some of those rules may have been modified - and experience may show that some ought to be. It seems premature, however, to interpret one afternoon's outbrust as evidence of a general intention to undo the admirable progress that the House has made during the past few years. For now, we would like to think of lastweek's performance as more of a tantrum than a revolt.