The chairwoman of the House ethics committee, the weight of the Republican leadership bearing down her, scrambled Wednesday to salvage a deal that settled a complaint over Speaker Newt Gingrich’s book deal.
The committee, chaired by Connecticut Republican Nancy L. Johnson, on Tuesday cleared the speaker’s book, but also unveiled plans to change the rules to ban book advances in the future and limit royalty income to $20,000 a year effective Jan. 1, 1996.
That provision would limit the royalties the speaker could earn from sales of his book, “To Renew America” in 1996 and beyond. Gingrich could receive full payment for royalties earned before the new rule, which would cover all sales this year when the book was on the “New York Times” bestseller list.
The ethics committee had recommended that the changes in House rules be passed before the end of the year.
On Wednesday, however, both Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, and House Majority Leader Richard Armey of Texas said that any changes in members’ ability to collect royalty payments for books should be postponed.
“I think there should be hearings … on any decision involving property rights,” Gingrich said.
In a separate interview, Armey said that hearings would be “consistent with how we’ve handled rule changes in the past.
“Anybody talking with Nancy should have known the limits of her authority around here,” he added.
The remarks by Gingrich and Armey brought swift rebukes from Democrats and others.
“There should be an up-or-down vote. In no way should this be buried,” said Ann McBride, head of Common Cause, a Washington, D.C.-based public watchdog group.
“This is an outrage,” said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo. “It’s clear they are doing this because (Gingrich) wants his money. He’s probably already spent it.”
House Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., said, “For 15 months, Newt Gingrich tried to control the jury. Now he’s trying to block the verdict.”