The House Democratic leadership was badly embarrassed for the second time in a row yesterday, failing in an attempt to bring a controversial campaign financing bill to the floor.
Monday the leadership was beaten when it tried to force a college student aid bill through the House without addition of a tuition tax credit President Carter opposes.
By a 209-to-196 vote, the House refused even to consider yesterday's campaign financing bill, which would have made changes in the federal election laws, including cutting by 70 percent what political parties can spend on House races and by 50 percent what political action fundraising committees of business, labor and other groups can spend.
Republicans, who have raised $18.5 million in party funds as opposed to $5.6 million of the Democrats, were outraged at the proposal to cut the party spending amounts, accusing the Democrats of a flagrant attempt to win the next election by denying Republicans use of their party funds.
Even though Democratic leaders relented over the weekend and offered to restore to the parties the full $50,000 they can spend under the current law, not a single one of the House's 147 Republicans voted to take up the bill.
Joining the Republicans were 69 Democrats, including Rep. James Delaney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Rules Committee, which had granted the rule making the bill in order.
After the vote yesterday, Democratic leaders blamed the defeat on members' dislike for public financing. Proponents had planned to offer as an amendment to the campaign bill a section providing for public financing of House elections.
It was very clearly a public financing vote," said Rep. Frank Thompson (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Administration Committee which brought out the campaign bill.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) also said, "We could have passed the rule very easily without public financing."
O'Neill and Thompson said they would try to bring the bill back to the floor without allowing a public financing amendment after the Easter recess.
But Fred Wertheimer, vice president of Common Cause, the chief lobby supporting public financing, said, "Opponents of public financing could not have had better allies than House Administration Chairman Frank Thompson and Majority Whip john Brademas.
Their legislative proposal to drastically cut political party limits completely sabotaged this effort to enact congressional public financing.
There's no excuse to come back without public financing. That is a signal that the fix was in the first place," Wertheimer said, meaning that while Democratic leaders were publicly favoring public financing, they were sabotaging it with their tactics on this bill. Wertheimer said that without the partisanship, the votes would have been there to pass public financing.
A leadership source claimed there were never enough votes to pass public financing and said, "Common Cause tends to cloak its tactical judgment with a mantle of righteousness. If you disagree with them in the slightest degree you're in favor of letting Uncle Julius die."
Rep. Abner Mikva (D-III), chairman of the Democratic Study Group, said he thinks any attempts to "do anything meaningful" on public financing were dead.
Republicans contended during the debate that while Thompson had agreed to put back the present party limit, he was still not allowing them to transfer funds between state and national party committees, and thus they could not vote for the bill.
House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.) insisted Thompson was withdrawing "the gun he held at our back but is not using a knife instead."
But Majority Leaders Jim Wright (D-Tex.) argued that there was much in the bill that was needed and the rule allowed members to make any changes they wanted to make. Wright joked that Republicans needed Democrats to make them prosperous enough to live like Republicans. "If you're going to keep living like Republicans you have to vote like Democrats."
Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said, "The danger was not this election year, because Republican members of the Senate would filibuster the bill "while the checks are going out. It's 1980 when the body blow will come. It will diminish the role of the political party and magnify the role of the special interests."