A constitutional amendment to ban school busing was defeated in the House yesterday, failing to get a majority vote, much less the two-thirds approval needed.
The vote was 216 to 209 against approving an amendment to prohibit busing "on account of race, color or national origin." Ninety-five Democrats and 114 Republicans supported the amendment, while 176 Democrats and 40 Republicans voted against it.
In the decade since school busing has bee an issue, the House has repeatedly voted against spending federal funds for it. But this was the first time a constitutional amendment, which would be needed to end court-ordered school busing, was brought to the House floor.
It would not have gotten to the floor yesterday except that a majority of the House (218) has signed a discharge petition, an unusual parliamentary device that took the issue away from the Judiciary Committee and brought it directly to the floor. However, at least 20 of the 218 who signed the petition voted against the amendment yesterday.
Rep. Ron Mottl (D-Ohio), who authored the amendment and has spent his career pushing it to the floor, said after the vote, "It's not only a personal disappointment, but a disappointment for the American people who don't approve of court-ordered busing."
Mottl cited Harris polls showing 81 percent against school busing, and added, "until Americans send representatives to Washington who share their views, they'll have to live with the issue."
Mottl blamed the defeat on pressures put on House members by church and civil rights groups, labor unions, the White House, the Democratic leadership and other organizations. "They had the organizations, we had the American people," he said.
"We had the momentum," Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.), leader of the fight against the amendment, said. "We worked awafully hard and had a nationwide campaign going. And when Americans think about it, they hate to monkey with the Constitution."
Edwards and Mottl said the House had voted to dischare the committee and debate the issue on the floor because of a widespread feeling that busing opponents should have their "day in court," as Mottl put it. He said the issue is now dead for this sesseion.
The intense and emotional four-hour debate was played before packed galleries filled with blacks and opponents of busing.
Rep. John B. Anderson (R-Ill.), a presidential candidate, got a standing ovation from his colelagues for a speech in whcih he said "We are seeking to elevate above equal protection of the law the neighborhood school . . . You are going to divide this country at the very time the president is appealing for national unity and we desperately need it . . . This is the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong way in which to tamper with the Constitution of the United States."
Court-ordered busing "is the creature of a judiciary run amok," Mottl said. "What are we afraid of that we divert our eyes from the systematic destruction of our public schools?"
"We are being asked to turn back the clock on 25 years of progress," Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D.N.J.) said.
"Forced busing is a cancer that is eating away at quality education," Rep. Gene Snyder (R-Ky.) said.
Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, asked, "Where were your voices when black children in the South were getting up at 5 a.m. to be bused past their nearest neightborhood school?"
Many of the traditional labels of conservatives and liberals were turned around during the debate. For instance, Rep. Mendel Davis (D.S.C.) a conservative who is retiring, spoke against the amendment. "We should be more concerned for the welfare of the children rather than the emotions of the parents," Davis said, calling busing " a positive good."
Liberal John Joseph Moakley (D-Mass.) spoke for the amendment, saying that with the $80 million to $200 million school busing has cost Boston, "We could have built new and better schools . . . We could have had enough money to give a summer job to every youth who wants one."
Mottl's original amendment called for prohibiting busing beyond the nearest school, and called on Congress to legislate equal education opportunities.
It was pointed out that this amendment would have banned busing even for overcrowding and would have given Congress carte blanche to write a federal education policy. So Mottl accepted an amendment by Rep. Marjorie S. Holt (R.Md.) limiting the ban to busing for racial purposes and eliminating the congressional mandate to meddle in education policy. CAPTION: Picture, Sponsor Mottl after rejection: Busing "is the creature of a judiciary run amok."