The House yesterday rejected attempts to repeal a limit on outside earnings of its members as it moved toward a passage of a governmental ethics bill.
As part of a new ethics code adopted early last year, the House had voted to limit outside income to no more than 15 percent of a member's $57,500 annual salary. But as the heat of the Korean influence-buying scandal died down, criticism of the $8,625 limit - which takes effect next year - grew.
When legislation extending financial disclosure requirements to the executive and judicial branches came up in the Rules Committee earlier this year, the committee, in a surprise move, decided to allow a vote on repealing the income limit.
House Democratic leaders delayed consideration of the ethics bill for several months, hoping the election year pressure would make it impossible to vote against the bill.
That strategy seemed to work yesterday as the House voted to keep the limit by a 290 to 97, despite an intense debate.
Rep. Otis Pike (S-N.Y.), said the limit would "build a monument to mediocrity" in the House."Nothing would say you can't be a businessman and serve in the Congress of the United States. All it says is you can't be a successful businessman."
Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) predicted the House would be left "with the independently wealthy consumed by a liberal guilt or social activists who never met a payroll."
Rep. Jamie Quillen (R-Tenn.) who offered the amendment, said it was "entirely irrational" to put a limit on earned income but none on unearned income from stocks, bonds and other holdings.
Hyde argued that as long as members were required to disclose such earnings, voters were "perfectly informed" as to whether there was a conflict of interest.
Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-N.J.) argued that the limit would allow "us to have some moderation ... of our greed."
Though she was chided for her unearned income, believed to be worth close to a million dollars, she said she would favor a limit on unearned income as well.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) argued taat the limit would not change the character of Congress. He said "90 percent of the members have already severed past relationships with previous businesses" and "only about a dozen" maintained a law practice after coming to the House.
He said the limit "reflects a plain reality and doesn't change the character" of the House.
He said the purpose of the limit was to ensure that members give their undivided attention to their jobs and "to show the public the job has our undivided attention."
The bill would require financial disclosure reports of income and holdings for members of the House and Senate, top congressional staffers, top officials of the executive branch, and federal employes paid a rate of GS-16, judges and judicial employes paid at a rate of GS-16 and above.
Candidates for Congress, executive branch nominees requiring Senate confirmation and presidential candidates would also have to disclose their finances.
The bill also strengthens current conflict of interest laws. It extends to two years the period that former federal officials would be barred from contact with the government on matters that were under their supervision. It also says officials above GS-16 cannot represent clients before their department for one year after leaving government.
The bill sets civil penalties for violating the financial disclosure provisions.