WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans on Wednesday outlined alternatives aimed at undercutting support for sweeping legislation to remove millions of unregulated dollars from political campaigns.
The last-minute maneuvering came as the House prepared to vote on the most far-reaching changes in campaign spending rules in more than a quarter-century. The outcome is not expected to be known until at least midnight.
The choice is between a bill sponsored by Reps. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., and Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and endorsed by almost all Democrats and a minority of Republicans, and two GOP-backed alternatives. The Shays-Meehan bill tracks very similar legislation that passed the Senate last year, and its passage by the House would open the way for quick approval by the Senate and the expected signature of President Bush.
First it will have to beat a proposal put forward by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, that would ban all unregulated soft money donations, and another by Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio. Ney switched strategy before Wednesday's votes, substituting a bill he had introduced in the past for a stronger version of Shays-Meehan that passed in 1998.
"I'm going to give people the opportunity to stay honest on this issue," Ney said. He said he would offer his original bill, which limits but does not ban soft money, as an amendment.
Shays-Meehan backers said it was a "poison pill" designed to siphon off support for their legislation and undermine compromises agreed upon with the Senate last spring.
The Republican side also plans to offer 10 amendments, and Shays-Meehan supporters say their goal is to block any attempt to change the bill to the extent that it would require a House-Senate conference before going to the president. "We know that a conference in the past has been a black hole from which legislation has never emerged," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sponsor of the Senate-passed legislation with Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
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