- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

Supporters of new campaign-finance regulations began their final push in the Senate yesterday to defeat lingering Republican opposition and send the bill to President Bush.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle moved to force action on the measure, which passed the House on Feb. 14. His filing of a procedural motion sets the stage for showdown votes on tomorrow and early next week, with final passage likely next week.
"Time has run out," said Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "This is one piece of legislation that must be completed" before Congress adjourns for its Easter recess on March 22.
The legislation would ban large, so-called "soft money" donations to political parties and restrict campaign advertising in the weeks before an election.
Republican opponents have threatened to filibuster the bill, but they no longer claim to have the 41 votes needed to sustain such an effort.
Mr. Daschle's action yesterday essentially called their bluff and gave leverage to Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and co-sponsor of the legislation, in talks over technical changes with Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who is the lead opponent of the bill.
Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, has suggested that he might aid in a filibuster. "I believe the bill is unconstitutional, and I'm not going to let it pass unless they've got cloture," he said. Cloture is the term for ending debate on a bill.
But Gramm spokesman Lawrence Neal said yesterday that Mr. Gramm "hasn't completely settled on his legislative strategy."
"He does plan to strongly oppose the bill," Mr. Neal said.
Mr. Daschle vowed to work through the night next week to break a filibuster and has joked that senators should bring sleeping bags to the chamber.
"We will be involved in all-night sessions Wednesday and Thursday night [next week]," he said.
But Mr. McCain said he doubted that the Senate will work such marathon sessions.
"It's never happened not since we had much younger and more vigorous members," Mr. McCain said.
Although the final vote is pending, supporters of the bill made clear yesterday that they believe victory is assured. Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and assistant majority leader, praised Mr. McCain and his co-sponsor, Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, on the Senate floor.
"There will never be enough positive written about the work you two have done," Mr. Reid said.
Mr. McCain said some of Mr. McConnell's proposed changes are technical and could be approved in another package, as long as they don't jeopardize the underlying bill. But Mr. McCain views half of the amendments as substantial changes to the bill, and he said those cannot go through.
Among those changes are exempting state candidates from federal money rules, even if state candidates mention federal candidates in an advertisement; indexing the limit on contributions to state parties so it increases with inflation, and increasing and indexing the limit on contributions to political action committees; and changing the rules governing what constitutes "coordination" between a candidate and an interest group.
Among the changes Mr. McConnell and Mr. McCain have agreed on are specifying that the law wouldn't affect any runoff elections stemming from the 2002 elections and listing what federal candidates can and cannot do to raise money for state and local parties and candidates.
Staff writer Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.


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