Lott: Campaign-Finance Debate To Start Tomorrow
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sep. 25) -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott tells CNN that he is hoping to start debate on campaign finance reform in the Senate on Friday, and is hoping for a vote by October 7.
But he also says that a ban on unregulated "soft money" -- the centerpiece of the McCain-Feingold reform bill -- will not pass the Senate.
All 45 Democratic senators, the AFL-CIO and President Bill Clinton are backing the revised McCain-Feingold bill, but it has just three GOP Senate supporters so far.
Pressure is mounting an several fronts in favor of McCain-Feingold. House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt has sent a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich asking him to confirm that House Republicans intend to schedule ample time to debate reform legislation on the House floor before the chamber adjourns this year.
The DNC is meeting in Washington this weekend and will adopt a resolution challenging the Republican National Committee to embrace McCain-Feingold, according to several Democratic and administration sources.
The new bill has picked up support from businessmen, including famed investor Warren Buffett, in full-page newspaper ads appearing throughout the country today. Legendary newsman Walter Cronkite is featured in an ad sponsored by the League of Women Voters that pushes for action -- but no specific bill -- running in Washington and on CNN.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold have introduced stripped-down campaign-finance reform legislation that seeks to ban so-called "soft money" -- donations that can be given to a political party in unrestricted amounts for virtually any purpose.
It no longer includes the provision which many Republicans opposed that would establish spending limits for federal campaigns.
The DNC's weekend meeting comes after a week of Democratic delaying actions on the House floor in an effort to force action on campaign finance reform. The pow-wow will feature speeches by Vice President Al Gore and House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, potential rivals in 2000.
Gephardt's letter mentions encouraging remarks by both House Majority Leader Dick Armey and House Oversight Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), but adds: "Until we receive your commitment to follow through on their rhetorical offerings, we shall not treat these overtures as serious and will continue our efforts to force action on the daily floor proceedings until such time as we secure your personal confirmation on a fair and timely consideration on this important matter."
In his weekly news conference, Gephardt said, "Obviously, what we seek is what has been sought in the Senate, and that is a specific commitment that this will be brought up by a certain time on the floor of the House in a way that there is time for a full debate, consideration of various alternatives and an ability on the part of the House to vote on this matter before we leave."
The odds against the bill are long, but even opponents say they are getting better.
Doug Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee says, "We think there are a troubling number of office-holders in both parties who are talking themselves into believing that they have the authority to regulate how much citizen groups can criticize them. It's a very dangerous notion, but it's catching on."
As the Senate prepares to take up the bill next month, both sides are gearing up for a real fight.
"I am seeing a dramatic increase in lobbying," says McCain. "There's mailers now that are going out to members of organizations all over the country, either for or against this legislation."
Lott (R-Miss.) has promised a full debate in the Senate, and now says it will probably start Friday. A dozen more Republicans must come out for the bill to defeat a filibuster threat. Backers say they have a fighting chance.
But in the House, Speaker Newt Gingrich told CNNfn he could make no promises about bringing up a bill this year. "I don't know yet," he said, noting that hearings would have to be held. Gingrich opposes the McCain-Feingold bill.
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