Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday he will push as early as Tuesday to force votes on long-stalled legislation to tighten campaign finance laws, even in the face of continued opposition from Senate Republican leaders.
With the failure of a Democratic effort to force an early summer vote on the issue in the House, the effort by McCain and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), the bill's co-sponsors, means that the measure will come up first in the Senate.
The legislation passed the House last year, but died in a Senate GOP filibuster. Its backers had hoped that House action this year might jump-start the measure in the Senate, where foes led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have vowed to block it again. But House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has not scheduled action until mid-September.
Both the House and Senate measures, which are strongly opposed by GOP leaders, would ban unregulated "soft money" contributions to political parties, regulate late-breaking issue advertisements that target individual candidates, and strengthen disclosure requirements.
McCain, who has used the issue as part of a reform agenda in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, said in an interview that he asked Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) last Thursday to consider scheduling votes this week. If Lott refuses, McCain said, he will offer the bill as an amendment to whatever legislation is before the Senate, probably an appropriations bill, and press for votes until he gets them.
While McCain said he has not heard back from Lott, the majority leader gave a strong hint about his response during an interview yesterday on "Fox News Sunday."
"I'm going to try to encourage him [McCain] to find some other way to do it," Lott said, warning that debate on the bill now could delay action on spending bills and the Republican tax cut proposal.
Lott also reiterated his opposition to the McCain-Feingold measure, saying it would mean "unilateral disarmament" for Republicans in fund-raising efforts. "If we thought we could do it without unilateral disarmament, if we could do something about the fact that unions take union members' money without their permission [for political purposes] . . . that would be something we'd consider," he said. Such a proposal failed in the Senate last year.
The McCain-Feingold bill was supported last year by a majority of the Senate but fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to end the filibuster. Since then, several more Republicans have said they would like to see action on campaign finance but have not specifically endorsed the bill.
McCain said he thinks prospects are good for picking up additional votes if amendments can be fully considered. "If we could get an orderly process of amendments, we could get 60 votes," he said.