WASHINGTON — Partisan acrimony broke out on the House floor today after Democrats sought to extend the life of the House Iran-Contra investigating committee through next year.
Republicans said the Democrats' move was a political gambit aimed at influencing presidential politics in 1988.
"This has sparked again the strong feelings of anger at the tyrannical tactics we have had to live with all year," said House Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.). "There are a lot of bad feelings toward (Speaker) Jim Wright's tactics here in the House."
Cheney Waves Arms
The Democratic proposal led to a heated and animated half-hour argument in the center of the House floor that delayed the chamber's business. Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.), the senior GOP member of the House Iran committee, could be seen waving his arms and stabbing with his finger at a copy of the panel's completed report as he sparred with House Majority Leader Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.).
"They were more heated than I've ever seen them," said one Republican aide who witnessed the confrontation.
Without further action, the House investigating committee will go out of existence at midnight Sunday. Panel members say it must be kept alive with at least a skeleton staff to handle the disposition of mounds of documents the committee has accumulated.
Some documents requested from the White House still haven't been received, said Democratic aides, and the committee is still in the process of cataloguing evidence and distributing it to other House panels conducting follow-up investigations. The information is particularly important for an inquiry by the House Judiciary crime subcommittee led by Rep. William J. Hughes (D-N.J.).
If the panel were forced to close up shop, Democrats argued, it would have to transfer all its material to the National Archives, where the documents--many of them classified--would be sealed and unavailable for decades.
Year Extension Asked
Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), chairman of the House panel, had been negotiating an extension of the committee's life with Republicans for several weeks. When Hamilton brought a request for a full-year extension to the Rules Committee late Wednesday, "everybody just went up the wall," said Lott, who contended Republicans would have been willing to extend the panel through Feb. 15.
"We have always thought that the Iran-Contra committee had partisan overtones," said Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.) after the House floor argument broke up and members retired to private offices to try to resolve the dispute.
The Senate investigating committee has no precise expiration date.