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Political Play of the Week

Speak softly and carry a big bill

Speak softly and carry a big bill

By Bill Schneider
CNN Washington Bureau

(CNN) -- After more than three decades in Congress, the man has finally met the moment and put his imprint on a major issue.

It's an overnight sensation that took 32 years to happen -- and it's this week's political Play of the Week.

It was 28 years ago that Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Maryland, last held center stage. Then a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he drafted the main article of impeachment against Richard Nixon.

Since then, Sarbanes has labored in relative obscurity, quietly and methodically.

Then, last December, the Enron story broke. Sarbanes started working on legislation to reform the accounting system -- quietly, as usual.

His Banking Committee held 10 weeks of hearings in February and March, with little public attention. But suddenly, in June, WorldCom went bust and so did the stock market.

Congress was under pressure to act -- fast. And here was the Sarbanes bill, carefully crafted and ready to go.

"It's not an issue with which you can or should be playing political games," Sarbanes said.

Sarbanes as cultivated a reputation as a quiet, methodical senator.  

Suddenly the name "Sarbanes" was on everybody's lips, Democratic and Republican alike. Wait a minute, House Republicans said: What about our bill, the one we passed back in April?

Read my lips, Sarbanes said.

"Apparently, some on the House side want to raise procedural questions in order, which would result in them avoiding taking the issue up and bouncing it back to the Senate. We think that's an outrage," he said.

On Monday, the Sarbanes bill passed the Senate 97-0. On Wednesday, House Republicans agreed to a compromise: The same day, the stock market went up nearly 500 points.

On Thursday, the House got the message and passed the bill by a 423-3 vote.

For Sarbanes, a Senate workhorse, it's a hard-earned political Play of the Week.




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