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HOUSE REPUBLICANS DISCUSS LENGTH OF CHECK-BOUNCER LIST

Key Republicans discussed in closed session Tuesday whether to support identifying all House members who wrote rubber checks at their special bank. Democratic leaders back public disclosure of only the 24 worst abusers.

House Republican leader Bob Michel of Illinois and other party leaders met with GOP members of the House ethics committee, including those demanding a public list of all account holders who wrote overdrafts during a 39-month period.A showdown over the length of the public identity list is likely later this week. The ethics panel found last week that 296 lawmakers in the 435-member House wrote at least one bad check during the 39 months reviewed, as did 59 former members.

Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., and Assistant Majority Leader David E. Bonior, D-Mich., all say they're behind the "top 24" proposal approved by the ethics committee last week on a 10-4 vote.

It would publicly name 19 current and five former members said to have been the worst abusers.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that the worst offender wrote nearly 1,000 bad checks over the 39-month period and that at least 100 members wrote 45 or more bad checks during the same period. The paper quoted "sources close to the probe."

Funds in the bank are made up entirely of account-holders' money and are not taxpayer funds. However, employees of the sergeant at arms office who ran the bank were paid with taxpayer funds and the facilities were in the Capitol.

Ethics committee members have said all account deficiencies were paid back when the bank closed late last year.

By the committee's formula, the panel would inform any inquiring member by letter whether he or she wrote bad checks at the bank during the 39 months ended last Oct. 3. It then would be up to those individual members, aside from the top 24, whether to come clean with the public.

The four committee Republicans who dissented are demanding a list of all 296 current and 59 former members who wrote at least one bad check at the bank during the 39 months studied.

"I assume the committee position would be sustained," Foley said in an interview Monday. "Ethics matters are not a party position."

Although members could cross party lines on the issue, Democrats - with a 102-vote majority - have more to lose from a full release of names.