Foes of campaign finance legislation thwarted an attempted test vote yesterday on a proposal to cut off the flow of unregulated "soft money" to political parties, resulting in a largely symbolic vote of 92 to 1 in favor of keeping the issue alive.
But the campaign finance legislation appeared headed for no more than a few more hours of life. Republican leaders indicated the Senate may move on to other business as early as today if, as anticipated, the bill's sponsors fail to get the votes needed to end a Republican filibuster against campaign fund-raising curbs.
The votes today will be on two proposals. One is the soft money ban proposed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.). The other is a broader measure approved last month by the House that also includes regulation of issue advertising by outside groups when such advertising promotes individual candidates.
McCain and Feingold originally sponsored a bill similar to the House-approved measure, but scaled it back in hopes of picking up more Republican support for the measure, a tactic that so far has yielded only one new vote--leaving them seven votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate.
Yesterday's maneuvering over the test vote was the latest in a Byzantine series of moves and countermoves aimed, at least in part, at capturing the political high ground on the issue. But none of the moves has resulted in substantive action on the bill.
Frustrated by lack of action on the measure and hoping to show that a majority of the Senate favored the ban, McCain and Feingold resorted to a tactic sometimes used by lawmakers to force a vote when no other options are available.
McCain moved to "table," or reject, his own proposal and urged backers of campaign finance reform to vote against the motion.
The vote, argued McCain, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, would be a "defining" one.
Not for long, however. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), leading foe of the measure, promptly rendered the vote meaningless by rallying Republicans to vote with McCain against tabling the proposal. As a result of all the parliamentary maneuvering, it was a "meaningless" vote and should be treated as such, McConnell argued.
Republicans heeded his call, joining with McCain, Democrats and a small band of other Republican supporters of campaign finance changes in what is likely to be the only bipartisan vote of the debate.
Only Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), who supports broader reforms, voted to table the measure.