The Senate's two most vocal critics of a comprehensive lobbying and ethics package acknowledged Wednesday they face long odds in persuading their colleagues to oppose the expected cloture vote this morning.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who has campaigned to include strong earmark disclosure and enforcement language in the legislation, said senators would not vote for the bill if the ballots were cast in secret.
He added that senators supporting it are making a pretense of enacting reform, and do not want to be seen as opposing it.
"While many of my colleagues may vote for this, they're doing it completely out of fear," DeMint told reporters.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who predicted "this bill will pass," made the point more bluntly: "They have reproductive organs the size of B-Bs that won't allow them to do the right thing."
Because the bill includes changes to Senate rules, supporters need 67 votes to invoke cloture and approve the bill. Senate Majority Leader Reid filed a cloture motion late Tuesday and the Senate is expected to vote on it this morning. The floor vote will come two days after the FBI and IRS on Monday raided the home of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, in connection with a bribery investigation in the state.
Senate Republicans discussed the bill at a closed-door meeting Tuesday, but sources indicated GOP leaders did not whip the vote and the expectation is that the bill will pass. If the Senate approves the package, it goes to the president for his expected signature. The House approved an identical bill, 411-8, on Tuesday.
Senate Minority Whip Lott has said he will oppose cloture. DeMint and Coburn announced a news conference for today on the "flawed" lobby bill that is scheduled to include Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., John Ensign, R-Nev., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John Cornyn, R-Texas.
DeMint said Democratic leaders watered down the earmark language the Senate voted on twice in January. He said the bill's final language gives Senate committee chairmen and the majority leader, rather than the parliamentarian, the authority to certify a list of earmarks in bills going to the floor.
In an attempt to protect the language adopted by the Senate, DeMint repeatedly blocked the Senate from negotiating a formal conference report, forcing Democratic leaders to write the final version of the bill themselves and to use procedural tactics to bring it to the floor.
"It started out with some pretty good stuff," DeMint said. "We voted on it twice, and we knew always their intent was to change it."
The lobbying bill imposes a series of new restrictions on federal office holders and candidates, and requires lobbyists to disclose activities on a quarterly basis.
Coburn said the package was written to allow lobbyists and lawmakers to thwart the legislation. He said the bill allows lobbyists to more easily avoid disclosing their bundling of campaign contributions for candidates by raising the reporting trigger from $5,000 in bundled donations to $15,000. He also said lobbyists can skirt gift rules by channeling money through their congressional campaigns.
Coburn also said other aspects of the bill are troublesome because they make it easier for elected officials to run afoul of reporting requirements.
"This bill will discourage a lot of people from running for Congress," Coburn said.
Coburn voted against the bill in January and said in a February interview with C-SPAN that he would not run for re-election in 2010 if the Senate bill becomes law because of the new sanctions.
Asked Wednesday about whether the current lobbying bill would affect his political future, Coburn said, "My decision about running for re-election will come in 2008."