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.
The reference to prayer recalled the controversy that roiled the House in 2000, they said. At the time, some Democrats quietly accused Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois of anti-Catholicism following the selection of a Protestant chaplain from a list of candidates that had been prepared by a bipartisan committee.
In response, Hastert unilaterally installed his own choice — a Chicago priest — as the first Catholic chaplain in House history.
Officials also said Rep. Anne Northup of Kentucky told fellow Republicans that her husband had once been the target of a baseless allegation, and she made an apology after deciding that even the appearance of wrongdoing warranted one.
Hastert and New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, among others, responded by telling fellow Republicans that Democrats were using the ethics committee for political gain. Hastert had earlier made a strong defense of DeLay, and he warned lawmakers that they, too, might become targets of what he described as an attack that was political at its core.
The officials who described Wednesday's meeting said it marked a departure from previous closed-door discussions, which they described largely as consisting of a series of speeches in defense of the embattled majority leader.
They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the rules of secrecy that govern the weekly sessions of the rank and file. The lawmakers whose comments were described either declined comment or could not be reached.
For the most part, several officials said the closed-door discussions did not touch on DeLay. Even so, the tenor of the comments suggested that some Republicans are eager to end the months-long deadlock over House ethics rules that was sparked by charges against the majority leader.
Officials also noted that while a deadlock over committee rules persists, the Republican chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, had offered a concession to Democrats at a meeting on Wednesday.
Democrats on the panel quickly rejected it as insufficient.
"It does not cure the partisan aspect of this whole exercise," said Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the committee.