The vote was 218-195, along party lines, to kill the proposal by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.
The California Democrat swiftly issued a statement accusing Republicans of showing "allegiance to the ethics standards of Tom DeLay." DeLay, the majority leader, is battling charges of misconduct.
Meanwhile, in another sign of growing discord within the GOP, ten former Republican members of Congress said the changes made earlier this year to the House ethics rules were an "obvious action to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay" from investigation.
In a letter to be presented to the House leadership on Friday, the former GOP lawmakers called for the changes to be reversed "to restore public confidence in the People's House," according to The New York Times.
The letter – signed by Mark Andrews of North Dakota, who served in both the Senate and the House, as well as nine other former GOP House members – offered no opinion about DeLay's current ethics controversies, but said "the consensus in our respective districts" is that "the previous admonitions to Mr. DeLay for casting discredit on the House were well-merited."
The ethics committee admonished DeLay three times last year, and in January, Republicans forced through a revised set of rules on the opening day of the congressional session. Democrats, claiming Republicans were merely shielding DeLay from further scrutiny, retaliated by refusing to allow the panel to organize for business.
In the interim, DeLay has been the target of a steady stream of attacks by the Democrats and faces scrutiny in the news media over overseas travel.
DeLay denies any wrongdoing, and Republicans generally have argued strenuously that the Democratic attacks charges are evidence of political opportunism by a party desperate to return to power.
At a closed-door meeting Thursday, a few Republicans expressed concern over the party's handling of the ethics issue.
Several officials said Rep. Dan Lungren of California cautioned fellow Republicans about using power arrogantly, invoking the example of former House Speaker Jim Wright and the Democratic majority he once led. Wright was brought down in an ethics scandal in 1989.
These officials said Lungren did not mention DeLay in his remarks.
Officials said Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado, former head of the ethics panel, told fellow Republicans at the same session that the issue should properly be handled in a bipartisan way.