Deal Struck On Senate Campaign Reform Debate
By Candy Crowley and Brooks Jackson
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sep. 24) -- It's a deal, after all. The Senate has agreed unanimously to take up and vote on a campaign finance reform bill before the year-end recess, after a very public push by President Bill Clinton Tuesday.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Clinton threatened to force a special session of Congress if a full debate on the measure was not allowed.
Lott was not enamored with the presidential missive. "We do not intend to be threatened or intimidated on this or any other issue," he said. But he repeated his promise to bring up reform well before the end of October and well before congressional adjournment. "It is not my desire to have this come up in the Congress at the end," he said.
Last Friday, Lott had offered to put campaign reform on the calendar, but Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) objected, fearing a GOP trick. The president's letter in hand Tuesday, Daschle agreed to what he rejected the previous week: "The new factor is the president's letter, that we will stay in session for whatever time it takes to get the job done."
Some Republicans believe the president's move has more to do with politics than a passion for reform. They think he's trying to send the heat elsewhere to take the edge off word that the Justice Department is investigating his fund-raising activities with an eye toward whether an independent counsel is needed.
Bill co-sponsor Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the main Republican voice for reform, was the bluntest: "We don't need letters from the president now. What we need is meaningful and serious negotiations between all parties committed to meaningful campaign finance reform."
Historically, campaign finance bills get butchered behind closed doors or killed by parliamentary tricks; they tend to fare better when debated in the open. So the bill's backers are treating this agreement as a breakthrough.
Included in the McCain-Feingold bill is a proposed ban on so-called "soft money" -- those huge unregulated donations to political parties from corporations, unions and the rich.
Days of partisan warfare climaxed Tuesday when a parliamentary move by Daschle forced all Senate hearings to suspend for the day. He called it "selective cooperation": a way to protest the way Republicans are handling the agenda.
Just hours before the campaign reform agreement, gridlock spread through Senate committees like some kind of parliamentary flu. It flattened the finance committee hearings on IRS abuses and short-circuited the Select Aging Committee's discussion of prostate cancer.
Daschle was willing to let campaign finance hearings chaired by Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) continue their campaign reform probe, but Republicans were not about to let Democrats pick and choose. They retaliated by shutting the Thompson committee down.
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