McCain Throws Down the Gauntlet

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If you though George W. Bush was quick to tackle post-inaugural business, you obviously haven't encountered John McCain in the past few days.

Less than 24 hours into his former rival's administration, the Arizona senator appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," where he informed host Tim Russert that he is urging the new president to consider the campaign finance reform bill he co-sponsored with Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin. The invitations will be polite at first, of course. But McCain made it clear that if no move was made by Easter, he and Feingold will try to attach the bill to Bush's policy agenda any way they can.

Monday, when McCain and Feingold introduced their campaign finance reform bill to the Senate, they revealed a meticulously crafted work of compromise, and Wednesday McCain is scheduled to meet with the new President in an attempt to push campaign finance to the top of the administration's agenda. The bill bans soft money (unregulated funds given to political parties for nebulous "party building" purposes) but raises the cap on cumulative individual contributions to all federal candidates and parties to $30,000 (was $25,000). The legislation also doubles the amount (to $10,000) that individual contributors can give to state party committees for use in federal elections. And as a nod to Republicans wary of the bill's limits on corporate contributions, McCain and Feingold have agreed to include a paycheck protection banning unions from spending money on campaigns without specifically notifying members.

At a press conference Monday morning, McCain sounded his longtime battle cry, saying, "The American people want their government back" and citing a responsibility to "restore the public's faith in our government."

TIME's congressional correspondent, Douglas Waller, has been keeping an eye on the debate surrounding campaign finance reform, and says any troubles the bill faces won't arise until voting actually starts. "McCain and Feingold claim they've got enough (60 votes) to make the bill filibuster-proof. That means they probably have all 50 Democrats and 10 Republicans lined up at the moment" — but the big question remains: How many of them will lose their stomach when confronted with the fact that this is no longer a theoretical issue. Plenty of senators, Democrats in particular, according to some reports, love to talk big about campaign finance reform, says Waller, "but actually implementing the changes would be akin to cutting off mother's milk."