- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

The campaign finance bill that easily passed the House on two previous occasions failed last night because, opponents said, its Democratic supporters never really wanted it to become law.
"People never seriously considered it would actually be enacted," said Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican and leader of a group of about 60 House conservatives. "It was easy for them to vote for it before."
The legislation, which would ban so-called "soft-money" donations to political parties, had garnered 252 votes in each of the previous two Congresses with overwhelming Democratic support. But the Republican-led Senate had killed the bill each time.
This year, the Senate approved a campaign finance bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat. With the political makeup of the House essentially unchanged, victory for campaign finance advocates seemed virtually assured.
But last night the House effectively rejected the bill sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, and Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, by a 228-203 vote defeating a procedural motion to establish the rules of debate. Of those who voted against bringing the Shays-Meehan bill to the floor, 208 were Democrats.
"This was reality time," Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, said of the difference this year. "The Senate already passed it."
Democrats said the procedural rule was unfair because it required lawmakers to vote on 12 amendments to the Shays-Meehan bill separately, and they wanted them considered as one package.
But Republicans said that was a smokescreen and that Democrats were worried the ban on fund raising would hurt them more than it would hurt Republican candidates.
"They're worried about the bill, and this is a good way for them to kill it," said Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and sponsor of a rival bill that would cap soft-money donations instead of banning them.
Even some supporters of Shays-Meehan said the Democrats' tactic was clear when Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri asked for more time to study a proposed change in the rules that was meant to appease Democrats.
"This is one more attempt to blame Republicans for killing campaign finance reform," said Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican and a supporter of Shays-Meehan. "These delays are nothing more than 'kill it on the Republicans' watch.' I think a lot of [Democrats] privately wish it would go away, just like gun control."
Both sides were blaming each other for the bill's defeat even before the 15-minute clock on the final vote expired.
"Neither side wants to have their fingerprints on the defeat," Mr. Foley said. "I'm not going to allow the Democrats to put this in our lap. They're going to have to share some of the serious blame."
Even as the partisan rhetoric flew, some lawmakers couldn't help but acknowledge that they were enjoying the robust debate, the intense lobbying and the parliamentary intrigue on a level rarely seen on Capitol Hill.
"This is emotional," said Mr. Ney, lighting a cigarette in the Speaker's Lobby moments before the final vote.
"The hostilities I've witnessed today are probably the rawest I've witnessed outside of impeachment," Mr. Foley said. "This is as good as it gets."
Mr. Conyers and some of his colleagues expressed hope that the legislation would be considered again in this session, since the bill itself was not defeated.
"It isn't like it went into a lockbox," he said. "They can bring it back in 30 minutes."
But Mr. Ney said many Democrats had lost their taste for the legislation as they reached the brink of victory.
"This was getting close," he said. "Then came the smoke-and-mirrors thing"

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