Senate Republicans scuttled broad legislation last night to curtail lobbyists' influence and tighten congressional ethics rules, refusing to let the bill pass without a vote on an unrelated measure that would give President Bush virtual line-item-veto power.
The bill could be brought back up later this year. Indeed, Democrats will try one last time today to break the impasse. But its unexpected collapse last night infuriated Democrats and the government watchdog groups that had been pushing it since the lobbying scandals that rocked the last Congress. Proponents charged that Republicans had used the spending-control measure as a ruse to thwart ethics rules they dared not defeat in a straight vote.
But the Democrats don't have to just wring their hands about it.
They can play chicken. And I think they should.
Imagine this scenario: the Democrats effectively shut down the Senate. They simply refuse to move on to other legislation until the Republicans remove the line-item veto provision. Reid can promise a separate vote on the issue if he likes. But the ethics reform package is popular with the public, and the Republicans are hoping that they can simply make it fade away, and blame the Democrats later.
They know that their strategy will fail if they face prolonged public scrutiny.
Already the Dems are talking about ethics reform being dead for now. They shouldn't. They can't lose on the ethics reform issue, and the Republicans know it. The Democrats can win this, but they need to be bold and they need to take the gloves off. Starting now.