Magazine article Common Cause Magazine

Washington's Fear of Reform

Magazine article Common Cause Magazine

Washington's Fear of Reform

Article excerpt

One year ago, voters had just elected a new president and the largest number of new members of Congress in decades. Most of the freshman representatives had campaigned as agents of change, and hopes for a wave of reform were high. But while some important progress has been made in this Congress, and at press time the House was expected to consider key reform measures before adjournment, 1993 has proven once again insider Washington's resistance to change.

Campaign finance reform - the single most important step toward restoring congressional accountability - should have been one of the first orders of business for the new Congress to enact. After all, Congress passed (and President Bush vetoed) a comprehensive bill last year. Most of the new members had signed statements pledging to support and vote for legislation that included all the key elements of last year's bill. And President Clinton had spoken forcefully in the campaign of the need for even stronger reforms.

But Congress had yet to convene when insiders started urging President Clinton to avoid angering Congress before tough fights on the budget and other administration priorities got under way.

Months passed before the Senate took up the issue. Under the leadership of Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) and Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.), a comprehensive bill passed in June. Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) and other Republican senators filibustered against it, as they have done repeatedly over the past two decades.

An all-out grassroots lobbying campaign focusing on key Republican senators was crucial to the eventual defeat of the filibuster and the passage of the bill.

In late spring, President Clinton and House Democratic leaders announced a House campaign finance reform plan. Resistance within the House was immediate. Many representatives who voted for reform when they knew it would be vetoed were alarmed at the prospect of passing a bill that would become law.

A number of freshman members, once considered the vanguard of change, seem to have quickly accepted the benefits and campaign contributions that flow to incumbents. At the same time, some House freshmen - led by Karen Shepherd (D-Utah), Eric Fingerhut (D-Ohio), Eva Clayton (D-N.C.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash. …

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