House supporters force vote on campaign reform
By Ted Barrett and Dana Bash
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A hotly contested campaign finance reform bill that would ban soft money, restrict advertising and generally reform the way campaigns are run will be taken up by the House next Tuesday, with a final vote expected Wednesday, according to House Republican leaders.
Those same leaders oppose the bill but were forced to schedule it after the bill's supporters got 218 members to sign a discharge petition forcing it to the floor.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said Tuesday the reform bill "is going to be very hard to defeat."
A similar bill, McCain-Feingold, passed the Senate last year and the White House has not said what President Bush would do if it passes the House, too.
Most Democrats and many Republicans support the reforms. The co-sponsors in the Senate are Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, once Bush's rival for the presidency, and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin.
In the House, the bill is called Shays-Meehan for its principal sponsors, Rep. Chris Shays, R-Connecticut, and Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Massachusetts.
Despite the discharge petition -- which was successful only after the Enron scandal heated up -- GOP leaders considered using parliamentary maneuvers to delay action on the bill for several months.
The leaders changed course in recent weeks after concluding the delay could be politically damaging, several aides said.
One senior GOP aide pointed to four considerations that weighed on the leaders before they decided to move the bill next week.
The first is that they wanted to remove it as a distraction for the Congress and the public.
"We want to get it out of the way," the aide said.
The second is the mushrooming Enron scandal. Enron doled out lots of money to politicians and many on Capitol Hill say they fear a political fallout after getting contributions from the bankrupt energy trader. Passing a reform bill could provide cover to many of those members.
The third reason is the belief among some GOP leaders that backers of the Shays-Meehan bill are not as organized as they were a few months ago and might not be able to sustain the votes they need to pass the bill, which will be laden with as many as 20 amendments, many of which will be designed to pick off support for the bill. GOP leaders hope they can defeat the bill outright or change it just enough to force it into a conference committee with the Senate where action could be stalled.
Finally, the aide said, Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and other leaders want to live up to the spirit of the discharge petition and "not subvert the will of the House."
Republican leaders will offer a substitute bill -- named for Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Maryland -- that would require disclosure of campaign contributors but would not ban the controversial soft money, which can be donated in large amounts to political parties with few rules on how it is spent.
Shays and Meehan released a statement late Tuesday that said:
"At long last, campaign finance reform will be considered in the House. The timing is favorable as the unfolding Enron scandal underscores the need for reform."
DeLay, who has been an ardent opponent of the Shays-Meehan bill, said Tuesday's announcement did not signal a defeat for his cause
"There's still some options open to us," he said. "Not the least of which is going to court. I mean, most of the bill is incredibly unconstitutional."