Despite lingering questions as to whether it has support for passage, Senate Democrats will almost definitely consider campaign finance reform legislation during the month of July.
"Absent a stunning turn of events," a leadership aide told the Huffington Post. "We will bring it up."
The commitment to bring to the floor the chamber's version of the DISCLOSE Act, which passed the House prior to the July 4th recess, foreshadows yet another high-stakes legislative showdown between Democratic leadership and a host of moderate Republicans. And it places, once again, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in the role of legislative kingpin.
As things stand now, vote counters in the party acknowledged that they don't have firm commitments from 60 Senators to pass the legislation -- which would force groups that spend on the election to make unprecedented levels of disclosure about their funding. The primary target remains Brown even though the Massachusetts Republican has insisted that it would be "inappropriate" to consider the bill before the November elections.
"It is fair to say that the target for vote number 60 is Scott Brown," another senior Democratic aide told the Huffington Post. He is 'the make or break vote on this.' Just like you had in the House, a crucial element to the bill getting over the finish line is having the support of a Republican willing to buck the rest of his party in the form of [Rep.] Mike Castle. The bill will need a similar reformer in the Senate."
Asked for a response, Brown's office referred the Huffington Post to the comments the Senator made prior to the July 4th recess -- with the implicit suggestion that he wasn't ready to cross party lines to help pass the bill. But those remarks did leave open the door to the possibility of a legislative compromise, specifically in the form of revising the bill so that it didn't come into effect until after the 2010 elections.
Negotiators insist that legislative reconfiguring remains an option. But the leadership aide did caution that delaying the DISCLOSE Act's impact would be counter-intuitive to the main point of the legislation.
"There is a concern no, there is a reality, that wealthy corporations are going to pour tons of money into advertising campaigns in this cycle," the aide said, before raising the now conventional specter of Karl Rove tipping the scales on a host of different races.
As it stands now, consultations between Brown and Democrats have basically stopped with respect to DISCLOSE. But leadership, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), is expected to reengage the Senator once members returned. Meanwhile, there are hints that good government groups will be mobilizing in Massachusetts to put local pressure on the Brown.
Why the spotlight is almost exclusively on him is owed to the fact that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has urged his caucus to unanimously oppose the measure. The one former Democratic target, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, has largely abandoned the cause of campaign finance reform with a primary challenge on hand.
With that whip count as a backdrop, Democrats nevertheless seem poised to push forward with the bill even if Brown remains in the no camp -- cognizant that a vote on DISCLOSE places them squarely on the side of public opinion. How the bill gets to the floor is an open question. It is likely to come up as stand-alone legislation, as opposed to an amendment to another measure. But it could go through the Rules Committee first, where amendments could be added.
And it remains to be seen whether the party will introduce the original version of the bill, or if it will adopt the one that passed the House -- which is not universally loved by Senate Democrats because of the exemptions added for groups like the National Rifle Association.