Bush says he wants to sign campaign finance reform
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Bush said Wednesday he wanted to sign a campaign finance reform bill that "that improves the system" and one that takes effect immediately.
Democrats, however, don't want the measure to take effect until after the November elections, and Bush's comments may embolden GOP leaders to seek changes in the measure.
The House of Representatives is considering a bill known as Shays-Meehan with votes scheduled for Wednesday.
"It's making its way through the system, and I'll give it a good look," Bush said of the bill, a companion to what is called the McCain-Feingold bill in the Senate.
"If it improves the system, let's have it in effect this year, and I support that," Bush told reporters after a meeting with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. "I think it makes sense."
Earlier Wednesday, the White House gave the clearest indication to date that Bush would sign campaign finance legislation if it reaches his desk even though he disagrees with some components.
Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said "improving the system" was the president's bottom line and that the leading congressional proposals met that test despite provisions Bush did not like.
The House Republican leadership is trying to scuttle the Shays-Meehan bill -- named for its sponsors, Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut, and Martin Meehan, D-Massachusetts -- and had asked Bush for his help.
The president has refused to get involved personally in the debate, although his top political advisers have encouraged a Republican National Committee effort to defeat the Shays-Meehan bill.
The House will consider three campaign finance proposals Wednesday -- Shays-Meehan, and alternatives 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.
Some of the amendments are labeled "killer" amendments because, if passed, it is believed they would cause some supporters of the prevailing version to reconsider.
The new statements from the White House were designed to remind lawmakers that they cannot count on a presidential veto to kill the legislation.
"Each bill improves the system to varying degrees," Fleischer told reporters. Bush, he said, "at the end of the day is looking to improve the system."
The White House balancing act is one subplot of the long-running political debate over changes to the way federal campaigns are financed.
White House aides have made plain that Bush objects to several key provisions of the leading legislation. But they've said he will not promise a veto to give members of Congress a "free vote" on the issue.
The president has "always made clear he can't be counted on to veto" campaign finance legislation, Fleischer said.
The major goal of the legislation is to ban so-called "soft money" -- unregulated contributions from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. Bush favors banning soft money contributions from corporations and unions, but not from individuals.
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