- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Campaign finance reform remains in limbo in the House while backers wait to hear whether they will get another chance to vote on the bill or will have to try an end-run to bring the bill up again.

The bill was sent back to committee last week after a majority in the House all but one of the House Democrats and 19 Republicans voted to reject the rules for debate set by the Republican leadership. The coalition argued that the rules unfairly hurt the bill's chances for passage.

Yesterday, the House reformers held a strategy session with Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who shepherded a similar bill through the Senate in April, in which they decided to give the leadership another chance to agree to a vote before the reformers turn to other ways for getting a vote on the bill.

"We can do it harmoniously, or drag them kicking and screaming to the altar, but there's ultimately going to be a ceremony," said Rep. Christopher Shays, the Connecticut Republican who sponsored the bill along with Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat.

Mr. Shays has asked to meet with with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert today to talk about scheduling a vote.

"The bottom line is it's important we know exactly what the intentions are of our leadership, and the intentions should be to come out with a fair rule," Mr. Shays said.

But House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said yesterday that campaign finance ranks lower in priority than other issues the House leadership wants to take up, including HMO reform, an energy policy and the series of appropriations bills now pending.

"The problem is we've got a full schedule, as you can see," Mr. Armey told reporters. "We had time slotted for that. That time, of course, was missed because they defeated the rule."

Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, last week was amenable to a procedural rule that campaign reformers considered fairer, but House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, wanted time to look the rules over while the Republican House caucus wanted to stick to the original proposal.

If the leadership doesn't schedule another vote on the bill under rules backers consider fair, the reformers have several options among them having the Senate attach the bill to another bill that passes that chamber, or bringing forward a discharge petition that, if signed by a majority of House members, brings the bill directly to the floor rather than having to be scheduled by the House leadership.

Keeping a coalition in the House that will pass the bill is a tough task, Mr. Shays acknowledged made tougher by the fact that it also has to be acceptable to the Senate on its face, without needing a conference committee between the two chambers. The reformers fear that the bill would be significantly watered down in conference.

Mr. Armey, though, reiterated Republican leaders' position that a conference is appropriate.

"It's naive to think you can legislate without that part of the process," he said.

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