WASHINGTON -- House Republican leaders say they have no plans to return to campaign finance legislation after a much-anticipated debate on how to reduce the influence of big money in politics fizzled into partisan bickering.
"This is not a great day," one of the bill's drafters, Rep. Christopher Shays, said Thursday after the House rejected terms of debate that proponents of election spending limits felt were unfair. "I know this is coming back. This is not going away."
But Republican leaders, who opposed the measure put forth by Shays, R-Conn., and Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., showed less interest in giving the legislation another shot. The Republicans blamed the wasted opportunity on Democratic leader Dick Gephardt.
"Right now I have no plans to bring this bill up," House Speaker Dennis Hastert said, emphasizing that he had lived up to his promise to allow a vote on campaign finance legislation. It was Gephardt, Hastert said, who "decided to scuttle the attempt to do it" by coming out against the rule for debate.
"Reformers killed reform," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the leading Senate opponent of campaign spending limits. "I am writing thank you notes to Christopher Shays, Marty Meehan and Dick Gephardt."
The day was supposed to be a showdown between the Shays-Meehan bill, which bans unregulated soft money contributions that corporations, unions and individuals give political parties, often for negative political ads, and a rival GOP-backed bill that would have limited but not banned soft money.
Instead it became a fight over procedure, with the Shays-Meehan side saying the leaders of the Republican majority crafted a rule for debate that would allow opponents separate votes on killing a dozen late-hour changes Shays and Meehan wanted to incorporate in the bill. The sponsors had asked that the package of changes to be considered as a whole.
"The process was not fair," Gephardt said. "It is wrong to have such a lopsided, unfair consideration of this bill."
An attempt by Shays and the main sponsor of the GOP-backed bill, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, to resolve the procedural issue fell through, and the House voted 228-203 to reject the ground rules for debate. Nineteen Republicans, mostly supporters of Shays-Meehan, joined Democrats in rejecting the rule.
The vote put on hold the best chance in a decade to overhaul campaign spending law that is riven by loopholes and has led to a dramatic rise in spending to influence the outcome of elections. The two parties received close to $500 million in soft money donations during the last presidential election cycle, six times the amount for the 1992 election.
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