Senate Democrats yesterday abandoned get-tough tactics intended to wear down a Republican filibuster against campaign-financing legislation but balked at a GOP effort to overhaul rules that led to the Tuesday night arrest of Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) as a fugitive from a quorum call.
After more than 50 hours of continuous session, enforced by Democrats to end GOP stalling tactics, the Senate recessed last night. It is to vote this morning on a final attempt to curtail debate and force a vote on the bill.
In what appeared to be a death knell for the legislation this year, Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) told the Senate late Wednesday that he would shelve the bill if, as expected, he falls short today of the 60 votes necessary to impose cloture on the GOP filibuster. However, Byrd told the Senate that he may "revisit the issue in some form" before the year is out.
Democrats have more than enough votes to pass the bill but concede they probably have no more than 55 votes to end debate and force a vote. That number was their high-water mark in a record-breaking series of seven attempts at cloture last year.
In a desultory windup of debate, Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.), who cosponsored the bill with Byrd, made a last-ditch appeal for compromise but conceded that negotiations have foundered on the issue of spending limits for senatorial campaigns.
The Byrd-Boren bill seeks to limit campaign spending in a variety of ways, including use of public funds to help a candidate offset any spending by an opponent that exceeds voluntary limits set by the legislation. It also sets aggregate limits for contributions by political action committees (PACs).
Republicans contend that the spending constraints amount to an "incumbents protection act" that would work to the disadvantage of challengers, especially Republicans in traditionally Democratic states. They have offered proposals of their own that would limit individual PAC contributions, require fuller disclosure of campaign funding and limit the kind of non-cash support that labor unions traditionally provide Democratic candidates.
Democrats' hopes of forcing an "old-fashioned" round-the-clock filibuster to focus attention on the bill backfired when the debate degenerated into a quorum-call fight late Tuesday, resulting in Packwood's arrest in a Democratic-ordered dragnet to apprehend Republicans who were boycotting the chamber.
Packwood was rousted out of his office by Capitol Police at about 1 a.m. Wednesday and carried feet-first into the Senate chamber to produce a quorum, prompting a howl of outrage from Republicans and a windfall of publicity for Packwood.
Echoes of that fight continued yesterday as Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) tried to get the Senate to reconsider its Tuesday night action in order to impose new constraints on a majority's power to arrest senators who refuse to answer quorum calls.
Specter failed on a virtually party-line vote of 47 to 45, with only Alabama Democrats Howell Heflin and Richard C. Shelby breaking ranks to oppose a move by Byrd to table, and thus kill, Specter's proposal.
Specter had wanted to tighten requirements for issuance of arrest warrants, assure they are served equally on senators of both parties and bar what he called "middle-of-the-night" roundups. Tuesday night's manhunt, he claimed, was "demeaning" to the Senate and should not be repeated.
But Byrd, in a spirited defense of his action, said he regretted only the "calculated circumstances" that prompted the arrests and reiterated he would do it again under similar circumstances. Decrying what he called "weeping and crying" by his critics, he said they brought the trouble on themselves. The boycott, he said, was "an act of very bad judgment. . . that wasn't necessary to defeat this bill."