Late last week, Congressional Democratic leadership settled on an alternative way of passing tough new campaign finance disclosure rules into law. With Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) announcing his opposition to the DISCLOSE Act, negotiators would shift their focus to the two moderate Republicans from Maine.
"I just talked to Senator Schumer within the last 30 minutes," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the sponsor of the House's version of the legislation, told the Huffington Post Thursday evening. "He is going to continue to focus on identifying Republicans who support it. As you know Senator Snowe was very critical of the Supreme Court's decision and the question that will be posed to her is, 'Okay, what do you intend to do about it?'"
On Monday, Snowe announced her intentions. In another blow to the bill's chances, the Maine Republican said she thought the Senate should prioritize other pieces of legislation before the August recess.
"She's focused on the small-business jobs bill, and that needs to be our first and primary focus," Snowe spokesman John Gentz told the Hill. "She's still reviewing [the campaign-finance bill], but she's focused primarily on creating jobs and wants to see a small-business jobs bill passed."
Snowe's preference for legislative delay is not, of course, the equivalent of a death sentence. But it's a major body blow. Without her or Brown, Democratic leadership -- led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) -- are left with few avenues for the 60 needed to cut of a Republican filibuster. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the other Maine moderate, has expressed her preference to push consideration of DISCLOSE past the November elections.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged last Thursday that he would bring DISCLOSE to the floor of the Senate "during this work period" (before the recess). But that was before the moderate wing of the GOP expressed its disapproval. Pressed on Monday afternoon whether there would be a revision in the timeframe for consideration, a senior congressional aide predicted that plans would proceed on schedule. As for new tactics, the party would make life more difficult for the Snowe-Collins-Brown faction, instead of accommodating them.
A host of reform groups are slated to host a call with Maine reporters later in the day. Van Hollen's office, meanwhile, sent around a Boston Globe editorial urging Sen. Brown to rethink his opposition to the bill. As for the vote, that will happen when or not the numbers are there.
"The majority leader all but guaranteed that he would bring this up for a vote," said the aide. "I think this is a perfect issue for the Senate to bring up for a vote and make Republicans filibuster."
It's a somewhat daring strategy on the part of leadership. For bills passed, there has been some hesitancy to hold votes without first securing the necessary votes. But that rule is generally disregarded when Reid's office thinks it is on the right side of public opinion. And with DISCLOSE, that certainly is the case.
The problem, of course, is that public humiliation doesn't always lead to productive negotiation. There is one possible legislative compromise that could help negotiators through the impasse before a vote is forced. If the implementation of DISCLOSE is delayed until after the November elections, it would remove the politics from the bill that both Brown and Collins have cited as a reason to not offer their support. But for good government groups and the legislation's authors, that chip is not yet going to be played.
"The schedule here is dictated by the Supreme Court's decision," Van Hollen said, referencing the Citizens United case that allowed for company's to make unlimited expenditures on political campaigns. "They are the ones who changed the rules of the game. So we think voters are entitled to the benefits immediately."
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