A paragraph in a report yesterday summarizing House Republicans' disputes with Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) did not make clear that complaints listed were Republican allegations about his actions. (Published 12/22/87)

Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) once saw his life clearly -- a career in the House, leading his party in the post-Reagan era. But after nearly seven years as minority whip -- the No. 2 Republican -- Lott is fed up and getting out to run for the Senate.

"This has been basically a totally useless year," said Lott, reflecting a widespread sentiment within the ranks of the House's perpetual Republican minority. "It's been very frustrating, very difficult, very partisan."

Lott, Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) and other GOP leaders who tasted power in the president's first term have bridled and fumed this year under Rep. Jim Wright (D-Tex.), the new speaker.

For Republican conservatives, even President Reagan is something of a problem. He is seen by many as accommodating the Democrats on arms control and tax matters over the last few months.

"There's a feeling that the White House has set us adrift," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.). "On arms control concessions in the defense authorization bill, the budget and God knows what else, we are viewed as an obstacle to clear sailing for White House initiatives."

The House GOP has labored in the minority for nearly 33 years with no relief in sight, a painful reality that weighs heavily on the psyches of ambitious and talented politicians like Lott, Thomas J. Tauke (R-Iowa), Lynn M. Martin (R-Ill.), Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Vin Weber (R-Minn.).

During 1981 and 1982, House Republicans took a direct hand in writing tax and budget legislation to implement Reagan's conservative economic policies. With a Republican in the White House and the Republicans in control of the Senate, Michel directed a working majority of Republicans and conservative "boll weevil" Democrats.

But House Republicans suffered a major setback in the 1982 elections, losing 26 incumbents. Within five years, they slipped from a party of audacious strategists to an unhappy collection of handwringers and complainers -- united largely by their contempt for Wright.

A major turning point was the Republicans' loss of the Senate in 1986, which was followed by disclosure in detail of the Iran-contra affair. Stripped of their political leverage and outgunned by the Democrats 258 to 177, House Republicans have been no match this year for Wright and his troops during skirmishes over spending, taxes, trade, arms control and Central America policy.

"Now they are no longer a de facto majority," said Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. "They don't have much of a program to push through. There is every incentive for the Republicans to use guerrilla tactics to make the institution look bad."

Clearly, Wright has become the prime target of the Republicans' frustrations.

"I feel the speaker is playing fast and loose with the powers of his office," said Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Republican Conference.

"He is willing to run over us," said Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.), chairman of the Conservative Opportunity Society. "When he loses battles, instead of gracefully acknowledging defeat, he cheats."

That kind of charge goes back to the night of Oct. 29, a watershed in the deteriorating relations between Wright and the Republicans. When it appeared that a controversial $12.8 billion deficit-reduction tax bill had been rejected by a one-vote margin, Wright held open the tote board for an additional 10 minutes until Rep. Jim Chapman (D-Tex.) appeared back on the floor to change his vote in favor of the bill.

"I pounded one of the speakers' rostrums so hard I bent it," Lott recalled.

Republicans also fumed about Wright's "destructive" intervention in the Central American peace process and his private meetings in Washington last month with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo to promote peace talks.

Early this month, Michel, Cheney and other Republicans threatened a showdown unless the Democrats dropped a last-minute plan to extend the life of the House Iran-contra committee by another full year, which would have left the administration vulnerable to additional attacks throughout the 1988 campaign.

Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) spiced up the dispute by threatening to introduce a resolution to impanel a select committee to investigate Wright's personal finances, including $55,000 in royalties from an unusual book deal with a supporter and his activities in behalf of financially ailing Texas savings and loans.

The House finally agreed to a compromise that would extend the committee's work through March 1. But last week Gingrich called for a formal investigation of Wright's dealings and charged that Wright is "the most unethical speaker in the 20th century."

Wright, whose soft-spoken ways sometimes mask a stubborn streak, dismissed Gingrich's charges as "totally without foundation" and said Republicans have been complaining about the Democratic leadership for years.

"They complain about the procedure when they have no strong complaint about policy," he said. "What I'm doing isn't cheating. It isn't bending the rules. The legality is clear."

But what galls many Republicans has been Wright's success in dealing with the White House. Even Secretary of State George P. Shultz gave them a jolt when he appeared at the Capitol Nov. 17 to make peace with Wright on Central America policy disputes. In the same month, moderate and conservative Republicans charge, the administration "sold out" to the Democrats on a tax increase and relatively modest cuts in domestic spending in return for limited reductions in defense spending.

"The bottom line was the White House had different priorities, which was getting more for defense," said Tauke, a leader of an influential moderate Republican caucus called the 92 Group. "House Republicans would have been willing to sacrifice billions in defense spending to cut the deficit."

Weber, a leader of the rival Conservative Opportunity Society, which made waves during the early 1980s by attacking Michel and then-Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), frets that Reagan's dealings with the Democrats have stripped Republicans of any useful issues going into next year's elections.

"The minority party doesn't win elections if there's no difference with the majority party," Weber said. "If the differences blur on defense and taxes -- two issues that separated the parties most clearly -- then we're in trouble . . . . We haven't invented a new agenda and we've lost the old one."

Michel, 64, the avuncular minority leader who was credited with holding the conservative and moderate wings of his party together during stormy times, is again under fire within the GOP for being too soft in his dealings with the White House.

"I think there is a feeling Bob needs to be reminded he is our leader first before he is the protector and defender of the White House," said a veteran conservative who asked not to be identified.

Michel insisted in an interview that "I speak very candidly with the White House about the feelings of my troops."

"But that doesn't mean . . . I have to have that very same intense feelings," he said. "That's not my nature. I was elected leader in a Republican administration to help a Republican administration . . . . Let's face it, without {the Reagan White House} we wouldn't be worth two hoots as a minority."

Michel, a one-time congressional aide from Peoria, was first elected to the House in 1956. He and Rep. William S. Broomfield (R-Mich.), the two most senior House Republicans, have never been part of a majority and, consequently, have never chaired a committee or subcommittee.

"It's difficult for members on our side to have the heart when you know you're defeated before you begin the dialogue," Michel said. "That tends to be rather frustrating and discouraging and debilitating after a while."

Lott, 46, an eight-term House member and close ally of Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), until recently was perceived as Michel's heir apparent. Now Cheney, 46, White House chief of staff under President Gerald R. Ford, is expected by many to replace Lott as whip at the end of this Congress and succeed Michel when he retires.

Lott said he seized the chance to run for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. John C. Stennis (D-Miss.). While disenchantment with the House was not the chief factor in his decision, friends say the realization that the Democrats would retain control of the House indefinitely weighed heavily on him.

The Republicans' complaints about the Democratic leadership are legion. Wright frequently suspends the rules in bringing major bills to the floor to prevent Republicans from offering amendments. He broke his word during negotiations on a trade bill. He has allowed the appropriations process to crumble. And he has pressured committee chairmen to quash dissent, as he did in ordering that Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee who opposed a tax increase be excluded from meetings where Democrats drafted a tax bill.

"Republicans have been reduced to the status of nonentity under the Wright regime," said Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.), a highly regarded veteran of the Ways and Means Committee.

Yet similar charges were lodged against O'Neill and other Democratic leaders in 1985 after a House task force, divided along partisan lines, declared Democrat Frank McCloskey the winner over Republican Richard D. McIntyre in a disputed Indiana congressional election. Republicans protested that the Democrats had "stolen" the election and threatened a revolt.

The Democrats' use of "restrictive rules," which has limited debate and amendments on 43 percent of the bills sent to the floor this year, is a continuation of a practice begun under O'Neill. During O'Neill's last two years as speaker, the leadership obtained restrictive rules on 36 percent of the bills sent to the floor, according to a study prepared by the minority staff of the House Rules Committee.

During an interview, Wright conceded that he may have been overly aggressive at times, but said that much of tension this year stemmed from the Republicans' inflexibility in discussing tax increases and spending cuts. At times, he said, the Republicans simply boycotted meetings.

"On issue after issue, they've retired from the fray, they've opted out," he said.

The Republicans, of course, see things much differently and have formed a task force, headed by Cheney, to devise a strategy for counteracting Wright's legislative tactics. Michel and others warn that unless Wright becomes more accommodating, the bitterness and floor fights will escalate.

Still, Michel said, he must remain on "rational" terms with Wright. "I am personally uncomfortable being a perpetual antagonist or having to get on the floor every day gritching and griping about being run over by the majority," Michel said. "I think there are more important things to be done."