The House yesterday rebuffed a call by conservative Republicans to establish a special independent commission to investigate what they called a "pattern of corruption" by House members.
On a 297-to-77 vote that capped an emotional debate, the House defeated an amendment to the legislative appropriations bill that would have called on the House to set up the bipartisan commission to probe almost a dozen ethics cases and to revamp the manner in which the House polices its membership.
The House passed the appropriations measure 228 to 150 late last night.
Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), one of four Republican cosponsors of the probe amendment, said the outside commission is needed because the House's own ethics committee, which looks into allegations of impropriety, "seems to protect the institution rather than police it."
Gingrich and three other Republicans, Reps. Robert S. Walker (Pa.), Robert C. Smith (N.H.) and Joseph J. DioGuardi (N.Y.), previewed their amendment yesterday morning at a news conference where they released a list of 10 Democratic lawmakers who have been the subject of recent ethics allegations.
Included on the list was House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), who has been accused in recent press accounts of using the influence of his office to intervene with federal regulators on behalf of savings and loan executives from his home state. Wright, through his aides, has said he was only trying to ensure that his constituents were treated fairly.
"Americans view this House as an ethical morass," said Walker, who last week successfully pushed for a similar amendment expressing House concern over corruption in the government of the District of Columbia.
But Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, defended his panel's record in probing the behavior of members. "There is no ongoing pattern of questionable ethical conduct," said Dixon.
House Republicans also yesterday sought to use the $1.4 billion appropriations bill to end a practice, begun under then-Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), of having the House television cameras pan the usually empty chamber during floor speeches at the conclusion of each legislative day.
But the amendment by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), which would have required the cameras to pan the chamber throughout each House session and not just at the end of each legislative day, was defeated on a 213-to-166 party line vote. Only one Democrat voted for the amendment, and no Republicans opposed it.
O'Neill ordered the cameras to pan the chamber after Republicans who belong to the Conservative Opportunity Society began using the period for "special orders" to criticize the House Democratic leadership.