Driven by what the Speaker called "a wave of resentment . . . against reform," the House yesterday rebelled against its leadership and refused, 252 to 160, to take up new rules to change the way it manages its own affairs.
Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the commission that proposed the rules changes, blamed their defeat on various elements of the House that he said "coalesced and shot down" the plan.
But Rep. John B. Anderson (R-Ill.). chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, said "what pushed the buggy over the cliff" was the publication Tuesday of a report - the result of an earlier "reform" - that showed for the first time how members spent funds from their so-called home "district allowances."
The report by the Clerk of the House showed that members had spent government money to pay their bar association dues buy liquor for constituents and staff parties, purchase concert tickets and flowers and, in one case, rent a tuxedo.
Yesterday's vote was not technically on the proposed rules changes, but on a parliamentary provision limiting amendments that could be offered on the floor. Without such a provison setting the terms of debate, rules changes could not be acted on.
Obey, whose commission spent a year on its recommendations, said after the vote that he doubted that any further attempt would be made this session to revive the plan.
Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), also warned, in a final plea before the vote, that "if this . . . goes down the drain, you see no more reform efforts in this Congress." O'Neill told the members, "The public wants this place cleaned up."
The major portion of the Obey plan would have established an administrator to manage the various elements of the $250 million House operation that today are in the hands of a mixture of House officers committees and individual members.
Among other controversial elements were a new panel to handle alleged discrimination complaints from House employees, a change in foreign travel rules and a new $12,000 computer allowance for each member. The measure would also have established a select committee to review and cut down on the number of House committees, and subcommittees.
House Republicans united in opposition on yesterday's parliamentary vote, although some key GOP members supported the basic thrust of the proposal.
Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.), who served on Obey's commission, said yesterday he hoped "something could be salvaged." He suggested that an attempt would be made to "get rid of the things that caused the most excitement" and bring it back to the floor under a procedure that would permit amendments from any mamber.
Frenzel said the proposal to limit amendments "gave everyone a perfect way to vent their spleen. It was a tactical blunder."
Among the groups that voted no yesterday were members of the House Administration Committee who felt they were losing power under the proposed rules changes, and Congressional Black Caucus members who were unhappy with the nondiscriminating section but had no satisfactory way of amending it.
Obey critized the Republicans for their unanimous negative vote saying, "They wanted to minimize any Democratic credit for reforming the House."
Obey also said "there was a lot of resentment about past ethics changes that he had successfully pushed through the House earlier this year under a similar emendment-limit provision.
"They voted against this one," Obey said yesterday, "where they couldn't vote against the 1st one."
The earlier ethics package limited outside earned income of members. It also required public reporting not only of a member's income and holdings but also expenditures made from official allowances.
On Tuesday, after pressure form Rep. Robert E. Bauman (R-Md.), an opponent of the reform plan, the Clerk released his report.
It contained the first itemiatzion of how members spent funds from their $2,000-a-year official home district allowance.
Opponents of the reform measure cited the Clerk's report as an example of the embarrassment that could be created by reforms.
Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), who lobbied against the reform package, said the Clerk's report showed "one of our brothers joined the Admiral's Club so he could drink whisky while waiting at an airport."
That was Brooks' way of getting at Obey. It was Obey who reported using $30 from his allowance to join the club that permitted him to use a private waiting room at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport while waiting for planes to Wisconsin or Washington.
Obey said the expenditure was justified because he often did congressional work or interviewing while waiting for his planes.
One legislator said yesterday that the "express report made everyone nervous." Members stood at the rear of the House chamber, he said, "and whispered among themselves those reformers are always getting us in trouble."
"Maybe we did go too far," O'Neill said, referring to the earlier ethics package. "We can review it next year when we come back."