REPUBLICANS RIGHTLY complained on taking control of the House in 1994 that their Democratic predecessors had fallen into the habit of abusing the rules to thwart majority rule. They offered the habit as proof of the extent to which the Democrats had been corrupted by too many years in power, and they vowed they would never do the same.

But that was then. This week, Speaker Dennis Hastert named 12 Republicans to be members of the House-Senate conference committee on the managed-care bills that both houses have passed. Ten of the 12 voted against the relatively strong bill the House passed against the wishes of Mr. Hastert and the Republican leadership. Of the two others, one didn't vote. Only one of those appointed voted in favor of the bill that in theory the conferees are supposed to support in conference. The Republicans who did the most to pass the bill over the leadership's objections--who in fact helped write it--Reps. Charles Norwood and Greg Ganske, were left off.

The likely effect will be to tilt the conference committee in favor of the mainly token Senate bill. Sixty-eight Republicans--some 30 percent--joined all but a handful of Democrats in voting for the House bill. The speaker denies he was out to punish them. He says he was bound by other rules to appoint whom he did. But that's a gloss. We think that in one important respect the House bill goes too far, but mainly it is sound legislation that, in regulating managed care, would help to legitimize the cost-policing that managed-care companies provide. The Republican dissidents did their party an underappreciated favor on this issue.

When Congress heads home, perhaps next week, the Republican leadership is quite likely to tout--with cause--as one of the year's few genuine accomplishments the bill it now seeks to subvert, presumably in favor of the phony Senate alternative. As with their predecessors, they have the utmost respect for the majority will--except when they find themselves in the minority.