WASHINGTON – With the numbers against them, Senate opponents of overhauling campaign finance regulations said Tuesday they would not stand in the way of a final vote on the measure.
"We're not looking for confrontation here, we're looking for results," said Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, an adversary of a bill that would ban unregulated donations by corporations, unions and individuals to national political parties.
Lott said he hoped work on the campaign finance bill could be finished quickly, perhaps this week, so the Senate could move on to major energy legislation.
The Senate last April, on a 59-41 vote, approved legislation that would ban the hundreds of millions of dollars in unregulated "soft money" given to parties. It also prohibits, in the final 30 days of a primary or 60 days before a general election, the use of soft money to finance some "issue ads" that are in reality aimed at either endorsing or attacking a candidate.
The House, led by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D-Mass., earlier this month passed very similar legislation by a 240-189 vote. Supporters are seeking quick Senate passage of the House bill so that it can go directly to President Bush, who is expected to sign it.
But Senate opponents, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had indicated they might filibuster the bill, either to kill it or force it into a House-Senate conference where it could be stalled indefinitely.
McConnell, however, told his colleagues on the Senate floor Tuesday that he was ready to reach an agreement on how to "in an orderly fashion complete the bill."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chief sponsor of the legislation with Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said he planned to meet with McConnell on Wednesday to discuss the legislation. He said he might agree to minor technical changes in the bill's language but was "not open to any changes in the bill that would require a conference."
"It sounds like we may be moving toward a resolution of the campaign finance issue without a filibuster on the floor of the Senate," Feingold said. He added that his side is confident that it has the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster and bring the measure to a final vote.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., one of three Democrats to vote against the bill last April, has decided that he would vote to stop a filibuster, his office said Tuesday. That would give McCain-Feingold supporters at least 61 votes on the filibuster issue barring other position changes. Nelson still opposes the base bill.
Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he was willing to give opponents a few days to reach a consensus on the best way to proceed with the bill.
"This will happen," he said. "This is going to be the year we pass strong campaign reform and put the reins of government back in the hands of all people."
The Senate is wrapping up work on an election reform bill and is scheduled to go next to the energy bill. But Daschle has said he hopes an agreement can be reached on setting aside several hours to debate and vote on the campaign finance legislation.