KT: The agreement yesterday on hard-money limits at 86-14, an extraordinarily large margin of victory all but assures that McCain-Feingold is going to pass. The only question is will it pass in a form that the courts find constitutional, or a form that the courts find unconstitutional. Besides that, it's just a matter of when.
KT: Exactly. Both Republicans and Democrats have something they hate about this bill, and the vote on severability is going to be a tough one. Hard-core opponents like Mitch McConnell will vote against severability because they hate the whole bill, and are confident the courts will strike down some part of it.
Meanwhile, some liberal Democrats like Tom Harkin and Patty Murray, who's in charge of fund-raising for Senate Democrats, may vote the same way. They fear that if the Supreme Court can pick and choose which parts of the bill are constitutional, they'll be left with a system that will allow the Republicans to kill them with unlimited spending by issue-advocacy groups (the "loophole" that the Wellstone amendment is meant to plug), but doesn't leave them the soft money to catch up. For them, that's the worst of all possible worlds.
Where does that leave the head count for the severability vote?
KT: It's anybody's guess right now. But McCain has at least 12 Democrats that he's very worried about losing on this vote.
To the extent that shame after years of screaming for McCain-Feingold is the primary force holding Democrats together on the larger bill, what effect does it have on the severability vote? Is it an obscure enough issue for defectors to hide behind?
KT: It all depends on your personal situation. Obviously John Breaux thought he could explain his 180-degree turn on this issue (he was the first Democrat to publicly bolt a few weeks ago) to the folks back home. For people like Murray and Harkin, who both face tough reelection fights, it's a little more difficult with Harkin in particular, if he bolts, Republicans are swearing that they'll make his life miserable.
And McCain's grassroots organization is very focused on the severability vote they're going to flood the offices of any wavering Democrats with calls and e-mails throughout the day.
How about the vote on final passage?
KT: That's the other big question. Daschle whose real feelings about campaign finance reform have been the object of much speculation may try to drag this debate out by talking as long as possible on any amendments that come up Thursday, in an effort to push the final vote on this into next week.
KT: It's got nothing to do with McCain-Feingold it's about the budget. Lott desperately wants to get all the budget resolution through the Senate next week, and hand President Bush a huge legislative victory going into Easter recess. Daschle wants to stop him.
KT: It's fun, isn't it?