Campaign Finance: The Not-So-Great Debate

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WASHINGTON: After a huffy turnabout by Trent Lott, an honest-to-God debate on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill was under way Friday on the Senate floor for the very first time. It all went very much as expected. Republican Senate fund-raising chief Mitch McConnell, when he's not declaring the bill unconstitutional, seems to view McCain-Feingold as a sinister Democratic plot aimed at crippling the RNC and installing Big Labor as America's preeminent kingmaker. Whereas all 45 Democrats, along with four Republicans (one is its sponsor, John McCain), think it's a fine idea.

"The key is McConnell," says TIME Washington correspondent Karen Tumulty. "He's promised a filibuster, and unless supporters can get 11 more 60 are needed to break a filibuster McCain-Feingold will never even get a vote." As it is, McCain-Feingold alas seems destined for the trash heap. Which, of course, is just what Trent Lott said all along. But would-be reformers can claim an incremental victory: "The climate has definitely changed," says Tumulty. "It's taken all the recent scandals to get this bill even to this stage." Miracles take a little longer.