Strong vote in Senate

Posted: Tuesday, April 03, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Washington Post:

The Senate's 59-to-41 vote in favor of campaign finance reform this week brought an impressive two weeks of debate to a remarkable close. The two weeks were a reminder of what the Senate can accomplish when the members choose - and are allowed by the leadership - to legislate rather than posture. Such events have become the exception in recent years.

The bill by Sens. John McCain and Russell Feingold is hardly perfect. It would nonetheless be a clear improvement over present law. The "soft money" system that has provided most of the fund-raising abuses in the past few cycles would be banned. Election and policy outcomes would still be powerfully affected by campaign contributions, but if the bill works as intended, the tug will be reduced. The House, which twice before has passed similar legislation, should do so again. The president, if only for the sake of his own reputation, should then swallow his reservations and sign the bill.

The House Republican leadership has made no secret of the fact that it continues to oppose the bill. In the past, it yielded and allowed the House to vote only after majorities threatened, through a so-called discharge petition, to take away control of the floor. Does House Speaker Dennis Hastert really want to go through such humiliation again?

Democrats have traditionally provided most though by no means all the votes in favor of the bill. Some are wobbling, as happened in the Senate. They fear enactment might put them at a disadvantage. But the present system, as they themselves have argued, is inherently corrupt. Do they want to suggest that their fortunes depend on such a system?

The goal in the House should be to pass the Senate bill intact or with minimal amendment. That would make it possible to avoid a House-Senate conference, a likely burial ground. Despite the good vote in the Senate and past votes in the House, the bill remains in a certain danger. The president could greatly reduce that danger were he to announce support. Why not now?

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