Democrats' Ethics Legislation Sidetracked by Partisan Dispute

Democrats' hopes of starting off their control of the Senate with a sweeping commitment to ethics reform received a painful jolt Wednesday, their ethics and lobbying legislation sidetracked by a dispute with Republicans.

Democrats failed to clear a crucial legislative hurdle when the Senate voted 51-46 to proceed with the bill that would have reduced the influence of lobbyists in shaping legislation and forced lawmakers to be more open about the pet projects they slip into legislation. Sixty votes were needed to advance the legislation.

With the vote, the bill was effectively driven from the Senate floor.

Republicans voted against the motion to proceed because they were upset that Democrats were blocking an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., that would have given the president authority, with the approval of Congress, to single out individual spending items in legislation for elimination.

"I hope this is going to be just a bump in the road," said Democratic Whip Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. But there was no further action on the legislation scheduled, and revival of the bill hinged on reaching some kind of compromise on the Gregg amendment.

Both parties blamed the other for the temporary demise of what they hailed, when debate on the legislation started a week ago, as a model for bipartisan cooperation.

"It's a terribly unfortunate day for this body," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.