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Bush Expected to Veto Bill Limiting Campaign Funding

By Helen Dewar
The Washington Post


The Senate approved and sent to President Bush Thursday a bill to overhaul Congress' much-criticized system of campaign financing but, like the House, failed to produce enough votes to override an expected veto by Bush.

It was the first time in a decade of effort that legislation to limit campaign spending has passed both houses, and Democratic leaders vowed to continue pushing for enactment despite the apparent partisan deadlock.

The measure was also the second in a series of major bills that are expected to succumb to election-year veto deadlock between the White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Congress failed a month ago to enact the Democratic tax bill over Bush's veto; other veto-threatened measures that are pending in Congress, probably without the votes to override a veto, include bills dealing with crime, education, family medical leave, abortion-related issues and cable television regulation.

The campaign-finance bill, described by Democrats as reform of historical proportions and by Republicans as "welfare for politicians," would use public subsidies and other incentives to encourage candidates to abide by voluntary spending limits of $600,000 for House races and up to $5.5 million for Senate campaigns.

The measure would also limit contributions by political action committees, curb the flow of unregulated "soft" money through state parties to support federal candidates, limit personal spending by wealthy candidates and close other loopholes through which special interests influence campaigns and the conduct of congressional business.

Initial estimated cost was $100 million to $150 million for a two-year election cycle; the bill did not include a funding mechanism.

The legislation was approved by a largely party-line vote of 58 to 42, nine votes short of the two-thirds majority that is needed to override a veto. Only five senators crossed party lines on the issue, with Republicans John McCain (Ariz.), Dave Durenberger (Minn.), and James Jeffords (Vt.), voting for it and Democrats Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), and Ernest F. Hollings (S.C.), voting against it.

The House approved the measure in April on a largely party-line vote of 259 to 165, 31 short of two-thirds.

While Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) and chief sponsor David L. Boren (D-Okla.), insisted they had not abandoned hope that Bush would sign the measure, Republicans said a veto is certain.

Democrats "came here looking for an election-year fight" with Bush, fully aware the president "will veto the bill for the simple reason that it is a terrible bill," said Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), who suggested new efforts to reach a bipartisan compromise.

Bush has repeatedly said he would veto a bill that included spending limits, public financing and differing systems for the House and Senate, all of which are incorporated in the House-Senate compromise.

Even if the measure is vetoed, its passage by Congress marked an important milestone in efforts to control campaign costs and stanch the flow of special-interest money into congressional races, responded Mitchell and Boren at a news conference after the vote.

"The public became more supportive, and pressure on the president has grown. ... As sure as day follows night, this or something like it will be enacted in the near future," said Mitchell. "We will not rest until this becomes law," he added, while declining to spell out options.