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Campaign Finance Reform Walks a Slow Road

Campaign-finance reform has a long way to go in the Senate despite an agreement to bring it up this session, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona told reporters at a Monitor breakfast yesterday.

"If we're in a 10-step process, we're probably at Step 2 with eight to go," said Senator McCain. The senator is one of the primary sponsors, along with Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin, of the bill the Senate will debate.

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Senate Republican and Democratic leaders agreed Tuesday to consider the bill before Congress leaves town in November. Under the accord, as soon as the McCain-Feingold bill comes to the floor McCain and Senate majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi will offer amendments.

McCain said he and Feingold agreed to soften some provisions of the bill in order to get past a threatened filibuster. The revised package - dubbed "McCain-Feingold lite" by some observers - would ban soft money, require unions to get permission before spending members' dues on political campaigns, require full disclosure of contributors, and increase regulation of independent advocacy campaigns.

Many expect Senator Lott's amendment to further water down the bill's provisions. "If I were him, I'd be very careful about how this amendment is perceived," McCain said.

McCain criticized President Clinton's threat to call Congress back into session if it does not deal with campaign-finance reform. "It puts a partisan spin on this issue and that's not necessary," he said.

Success or failure of the bill will depend on public pressure, McCain said. "I just don't know what [senators] are hearing from their constituents."

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