As House Speaker Newt Gingrich sought to quash a rebellion in his ranks, the House voted along party lines Friday to launch a massive investigation of alleged fund-raising improprieties by the Clinton administration.
The probe by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, will have access to at least $12-million _ more than twice the money set aside for a separate Senate investigation that has a broader scope.
In attempting to block a budget they called excessive, House Democrats noted that the Senate is looking into possible fund-raising improprieties by both presidential and congressional candidates during the 1996 election cycle, while the House panel has set its sights only on White House abuses.
"If there is going to be an investigation, and I strongly support one, it ought to be a fair one and a non-partisan one," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
Burton vowed to run the probe responsibly and to turn over to the House and Senate ethics committees any congressional wrongdoing he might come across.
Officially, Burton will have $3.8-million to run his investigation. But he also will have access to a special $8-million contingency fund, and millions more set aside for the regular work of his committee. The Senate, in contrast, has authorized $4.35-million for its inquiry.
Many in the GOP, even vehement opponents of campaign-finance reform, are eager to shine a spotlight on the president's money-raising practices through congressional inquiries. They see the allegations of improper conduct by fund-raisers and foreign-linked money reaching Democratic Party coffers as a prime issue for GOP use in upcoming campaigns.
"By being more selective, you do have a better chance for conclusive results," Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., told the New York Times.
Democrats, meanwhile, want the investigations to be broad enough to determine whether such questionable practices are endemic to both parties.
House Democrats temporarily succeeded in blocking the funding for Burton's committee on Thursday night by teaming up with fiscal conservatives within the GOP who were upset with an overall increase in spending for all House panels.
But Gingrich fashioned a compromise to bring most of the rebels back in line Friday, agreeing to temporarily freeze the budgets for the House committees at current levels _ except for the panel probing the president.
Although Republicans eventually forced through the money for the fund-raising investigation by a 213-179 vote, Thursday night's developments further exposed fissures among their House membership.
Gingrich angered a core of conservatives earlier this week when he indicated that in order to achieve a balanced-budget accord with the Clinton administration, he would be willing to delay a push for the large tax cuts that have been central to the GOP agenda.