- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

The House shelved campaign finance reform yesterday after the bill's supporters refused to accept the procedural rules for considering the issue.
Most of the votes against the rule, which would let debate start on the bill, came from backers of the bill sponsored by Reps. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, and Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, leaving them without a chance to vote on the bill's merits.
"This is not a good day. This is a day I was expecting debate on campaign finance reform, and either win or lose. I think we had the votes, I'm not sure. We certainly had it on the merits," Mr. Shays said.
But some Republican leaders didn't hide their crowing: "Reformers killed reform. I am writing thank-you notes to Christopher Shays, Marty Meehan and Dick Gephardt," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and the premier foe of the legislation in the Senate.
The rule was rejected on a 228-203 vote. It was opposed by 208 Democrats, 19 Republicans and 1 independent, with 201 Republicans, 1 independent and 1 Democrat voting in favor.
The Shays-Meehan proposal is the companion to the Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, that passed in April.
The House bill isn't technically dead. It returns to the House Rules Committee, and its backers vowed to try to bring it back before year's end. The bill's supporters said they hoped that with a weekend to think, Republican leaders would reconsider and let the bill come up next week in the form Mr. Shays wants.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, though, said yesterday was the day he had laid out for campaign finance reform and said other issues like a patients' bill of rights and appropriations bills are higher on his list of priorities.
"Right now, I have no plan to bring this bill up now," the Illinois Republican said.
But Democrats said the Republican leadership wanted the bill to fail, and they got their way by constructing an unfair rule.
The rejected rule would have barred backers of Shays-Meehan from offering a series of amendments as one package. The rule would have required consideration of each amendment on its merits.
"The problem today was the process was not fair. It is not right to allow 22 amendments on the bipartisan Shays-Meehan bill, have no amendments on the Ney bill, and think that is fair," said Mr. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.
He said Republicans would now have to face the wrath of American voters, whom he said are upset at the role of money in the political process.
Republican leaders said blame lies with Mr. Gephardt and other backers who wanted a failed bill to use as a political football.
"Mr. Gephardt did not have the votes to pass Shays-Meehan, he knew that, he concocted a way to bring the bill down," said Republican chief deputy whip Roy Blunt from Missouri. "The only way he could do that is through the defeat of a rule."
Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, New York Republican, said scuttling the bill was a way for Mr. Gephardt to establish an issue for a potential run for president in 2004.
The Shays-Meehan bill would ban national parties from raising or spending soft money and place caps on how much soft money state and local parties can raise and regulate how they spend it.
Republican leaders had an alternative to Shays-Meehan that would restrict rather than end soft money at the national level and would leave states to regulate local and state committees. Both versions prohibit national parties from running TV ads using soft money.
The Shays-Meehan bill regulates interest groups that run ads, while the Republican leaders' version, sponsored by Reps. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, and Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat, just requires greater disclosure about the groups running the ads and their finances.
At the root of yesterday's maneuverings was the balance Mr. Shays and Mr. Meehan had to strike.
They needed to produce a bill that could carry a majority of the House, they had to defend against amendments that were designed to divide support for their bill, and they wanted to produce a bill that could be passed as is by the Senate without a conference between the two chambers, where they feared the bill could die.
To accommodate senators and to try to capture wavering House members, Mr. Shays and Mr. Meehan drew up a series of last-minute amendments, which they wanted considered as one amendment so as not to divide supporters on an individual plank.
"That amendment represented work with both the Senate and the House to bring forth a bill that was going to pass the House, go back to the Senate and pass the Senate," Mr. Shays said.
But some of those amendments were more than technical changes — they increased the amount of hard money individuals could give to national political parties, and removed a provision requiring state and local parties to ante up hard money to match the soft money they spend.
Republican leaders argued that those amendments should be taken one by one — and drew the rules that way.
One such lawmaker, Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, said voting on each amendment would give supporters of the bill a chance to see what the 14 changes were.
For a time yesterday, Mr. Hastert was ready to concede to campaign finance supporters and let them vote on amendments as a bloc — but that effort fell apart when Democrats on the one hand asked for extra time to review the new amendment, while Republicans on the other hand told party leaders of their opposition to changing the rule.
The 19 Republicans joining in opposing their leadership yesterday and Democrats holding ranks indicate there may be enough support to pass a bill later — if one comes to the floor.

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