Over the protest of Democrats, House Republicans have a new $1.3 million on deposit to help prepare for any impeachment evidence against President Clinton that independent counsel Kenneth Starr submits to Congress.

"It simply is inappropriate for them to be playing with this money," Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., charged Wednesday, shortly before Republicans forced approval of the additional funds by party-line vote.In addition to the $1.3 million earmarked for the Judiciary Committee, the GOP voted $1.8 million to extend a long-running investigation a separate panel is conducting into Democratic campaign fund-raising abuses.

The Judiciary Committee money sparked the loudest protests from Democrats, and Republicans offered varying explanations for how the money would be spent.

Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who is chairman of the panel, originally asked for the funds late last year to help conduct a review of Justice Department investigations, including Attorney General Janet Reno's refusal to turn over her own campaign fund-raising probe to an independent counsel.

Since them, though, Hyde has said he will recruit staff aides - including a $130,000-a-year senior counsel - who are capable of turning their attention to impeachment preparations if necessary.

"I would hope they could walk and chew gum at the same time," he said Wednesday. "Make a lateral move if that is required."

Clinton's approval ratings remain high, and fearful of repercussions, most Republicans have refrained from directly attacking the president.