The Senate ethics committee is divided along party lines over whether to discipline the only Republican in the "Keating Five" case as it prepares for a final round of deliberations when Congress returns from its Presidents' Day recess Feb. 19.
But sources close to the deliberations said the panel is not deadlocked and expects to reach a conclusion within days after reconvening.
At issue is whether five senators intervened improperly on behalf of savings and loan executive Charles H. Keating Jr., who had raised more than $1.3 million for their campaigns and political causes.
When the panel concluded six days of closed-door discussions Thursday, sources said its three Republican members were prepared to take no action against Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Glenn (D-Ohio), the course recommended earlier by committee special counsel Robert S. Bennett.
But the three Democrats, led by Chairman Howell T. Heflin (D-Ala.), argued that McCain should receive essentially the same treatment as his Arizona colleague, Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D), the sources said.
Under a plan discussed at one point in the deliberations, the Democrats favored comparable treatment, probably a critical letter, for Glenn and Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.) as well as McCain and DeConcini. Most, if not all, the committee members are understood to believe that Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), the fifth senator, merits more serious discipline, which could take the form of a recommendation for censure by the full Senate.
The six-member committee -- Democrats David Pryor (Ark.), Terry Sanford (N.C.) and Heflin and Republicans Warren B. Rudman (N.H.), Jesse Helms (N.C.) and Trent Lott (Miss.) -- was similarly split along party lines when Bennett found no grounds for proceeding against Glenn and McCain last fall.
At the time, Senate Republicans accused the Democrats of holding McCain hostage to keep the "Keating Five" from being an all-Democratic case before the November elections, while Democrats accused the Republicans of leaking information damaging to Cranston, DeConcini and Riegle in order to stack the deck against them.