For two hours the House debated a Democratic proposal that would have banned any new U.S. funds to the contras fighting Nicaragua's Sandinista government. Even supporters of such a total ban viewed it as doomed. As soon as it was defeated, they figured, they would offer another measure that would give President Reagan a fraction of the $100 million he wants in contra aid. But as the scoreboard ticked off the tally, Democrats watched in amazement. The measure was winning, mainly because few Republicans were voting. Suddenly, with time running out, the Republicans pushed their vote buttons in a rush and...

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