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House Reform Bill 'Bad,' Lawmaker Says

April 02, 2001|MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — As campaign finance reform appears headed toward easy passage today in the Senate, speculation on Capitol Hill has turned to the fate of a similar bill in the House, where some Republican leaders have vowed to fight it.

"It's a bad bill--it needs a lot of work," Rep. Thomas M. Davis (R-Va.) said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." He also indicated that the legislation would not be a top priority in the House this session.

"I think they'll get a hearing on this bill, but I don't think it ought to come before we finish the budget, before we've done tax cuts, before we've done our education bill," he said, noting that he believed the bill should be heard in a "reasonable period of time," which he defined as "before the session's out" in the fall.

Davis, however, said he was "more of an optimist" than Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the Republican majority whip who has said he will aggressively oppose Shays-Meehan, the House version of the McCain-Feingold bill.

"Maybe we can make this bill work," Davis said.

Similar campaign finance bills have passed by wide margins in the House in previous years, although some lawmakers say that was in part because the efforts were sure to be blocked by the Senate. There is concern among some Democrats that the doubling of "hard-money" contributions, those made directly by individuals to campaigns, would give Republicans an advantage at the same time that the legislation would make it more difficult for the "soft-money" contributions that have traditionally favored Democrats.

Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), one of the coauthors of the House version, on Sunday dismissed concerns about the bill's fate.

"I don't think the bill's in trouble," he said on "Meet the Press." "Democrats are going to make sure that we get rid of this soft-money system."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who also appeared on the NBC show, was asked about comments made by leaders in his own party who have said they would prefer he not sit on the joint congressional committee that would be called to iron out differences in the chambers' campaign finance reform bills if each passes.

He responded: "The fact is that they're not going to be able to conduct some kind of emasculation of this legislation behind closed doors in a smoke-filled room." Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate's top Democrat, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that, if needed, he would use one of his slots to give McCain a seat at the table.

"John McCain deserves to be in the room when the final details are decided," he said. "If Sen. [Trent] Lott [R-Miss.] isn't prepared to do it, I will."

The conference between the two lawmaking bodies is also the focus of much attention from opponents who question the constitutionality of several provisions in the legislation.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on "Fox News Sunday" that the conference might be an opportunity to "negotiate with the [Bush] administration and see if we can come up with a bill that actually improves the system."

At the same time, McConnell again expressed deep displeasure with the bill as it is now written.

"The president will have to decide whether to veto it or sign it," he said. "If he signs it, I'm going to court."

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