Sponsors maneuver before campaign reform showdown
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On the eve of a House showdown on campaign finance reform, the bipartisan sponsors of a bill that would restrict so-called "soft-money" contributions announced Tuesday they would try to delay its effective date until after this year's elections.
"We only have eight months left until the general election, and so we've decided it's just crazy to think that we can implement this bill and have it work, especially when we have to send it back to the Senate," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut.
Shays, one of the sponsors of the Shays-Meehan bill to go before the House Wednesday, conceded that delaying the effective date on the bill could help sway some House members in what is expected to be a razor-close vote.
"I believe that a majority of the House has reached its breaking point with this soft-money system," said the bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Massachusetts.
"They know that this is a system that gives good people a bad name, and I believe they're ready to change it."
The Shays-Meehan bill is similar to the McCain-Feingold legislation that has already passed the Senate. While about 50 Republicans have signed signaled support for the bill, the House GOP leadership fiercely opposes it.
The House will consider three versions of campaign finance reform -- Shays-Meehan and substitutes offered by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.
Whichever measure gets the most votes will proceed to the amendment phase, where lawmakers will be able to propose changes.
'Black hole' cited
If Shays-Meehan survives the first hurdle, opponents of the measure can offer up to 10 amendments.
Should any pass, the Senate would either have to agree to accept them, or the bill would go to a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two versions.
Supporters believe House leaders will use the conference committee process to squash the bill, so they are trying to hold the line against any amendments that would prompt the Senate to send the bill there.
"We know that a conference in the past has been a black hole from which legislation never emerged," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, one of the Senate bill's sponsors.
Shays and Meehan said they would also offer three other amendments -- to raise the limit on individual contributions to campaigns from $1,000 to $2,000, to provide higher contribution limits for candidates running against wealthy candidates financing their own campaigns, and to force broadcasters to provide cut-rate television ads to candidates.
McCain and Feingold said they believe the Senate would agree to those changes if they clear the House, avoiding the need for a conference committee.
The Shays-Meehan bill was coming to the floor this week after supporters got 218 House members -- a majority of the chamber's 435 voting members -- to sign a discharge petition that forced the House leadership to bring it to the floor.
Opponents of the measure were expected to try to use the amendment process to peel away votes from that slender majority.
Supporters of the bill were hoping the public outrage over the Enron Corp. controversy would help them persuade wavering members to support their bill.
Enron was a major soft-money contributor to both parties, although it gave more money to the GOP.
Although the White House has made it clear that neither Bush nor any other senior administration officials were lobbying House members on the issue, and the president has not threatened to veto the measure, the White House also has made it clear that Bush opposes some provisions in the Shays-Meehan bill.
The Republican National Committee has launched a spirited effort to defeat the bill, led by RNC Chairman Marc Racicot, the former governor of Montana.
Senior administration officials conceded that while the president could stop the RNC lobbying campaign, he has no intention of doing so.
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