The much-anticipated debate never even got off the ground. Instead, Republican leadership, dead-set against the sweeping reform legislation sponsored by Reps. Shays and Meehan, proffered a rule to pick apart the offending bill amendment by amendment. Arguing that the guidelines would have amounted to an excruciating stall tactic, Democrats and 18 Republicans voted against the rule, defeating it by a vote of 228-203.
Defeating the Republicans’ rules, of course, also meant ending the debate over campaign finance at least for now. Although House Speaker Dennis Hastert told reporters Thursday he’s not sure when or if the issue will reappear on the House agenda, supporters say it could resurface in September, when Representatives return to DC after summer recess.
Despite their cheer over defeating the Shays-Meehan bill, House Republicans reportedly insist they are unhappy that their rules were defeated. At a post-vote press conference, Hastert chastised Democrats for defeating the rules, accusing them of killing the legislation just to keep their favorite campaign issue alive. Rep. Tom DeLay had harsh words for Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. ""He rejected (the rules) because he didn't have the votes to pass" his own bill, DeLay said after the vote. "He concocted a way to bring the bill down."
For their part, Democrats were grim, and charged Republicans with advocating "cynical political activity" to defeat the Shays-Meehan bill. "This is the stupidest rule I have seen in 23 years," Rep. Martin Frost said on the House floor Thursday. Despite this setback, supporters of the Shays-Meehan bill insist they will find a way to reintroduce the legislation.
Hastert has other ideas, telling reporters Thursday evening, "Right now I have no plans to bring this bill up." That sounds like a deathknell for reform.