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THE HOUSE LOOKS FOR COVER



Published: Thu, July 5, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: The House Republican leadership has drafted a phony campaign finance reform bill whose purpose is to give uneasy members political cover -- let them look as if they are voting in favor of reform when in fact they will be voting against. Everyone understands the ploy, and no one is likely to be much fooled by it. A vote for this false-front legislation when Congress returns from the July 4 recess will be a vote to perpetuate a system in which public office has ceased to be so much won as bought.

The Senate has passed a bill to ban the soft-money system, whereby the political parties are used as straws to raise and spend on behalf of their candidates funds the candidates are forbidden to raise and spend themselves. The parties together raised a half-billion dollars in such funds in the last election.

Gaping hole: This is modest legislation; it does no more than repair a gaping hole in the present law. It nonetheless goes too far for a handful of Democrats, such as Maryland's Albert Wynn, and for the House Republican leaders, who propose merely to limit rather than ban soft money. The limits then turn out to be porous. The bill's main effect would be to legitimize and allow to continue in full flower the practice it pretends to control.

The sponsors suggest a ban on soft money would weaken the parties. That's equivalent to saying the parties can flourish only if they are allowed to circumvent a law whose principal purpose is to prevent corruption. Do their defenders really want to make that argument?

The House on its return will have before it, as an alternative to the Republican bill, a measure by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D-Mass., that has twice been passed by strong bipartisan majorities over Republican leadership objections. Like the Senate bill, it would ban soft money. It has been amended in a couple of ways to meet the objections of Democrats who voted for the bill in the past but now find themselves uneasy because it could actually become law. The amendments create a limited exception to the soft-money ban and would leave in place for House elections the current limits on hard money that can be given to candidates.

Those are thought to be the price of preserving the House majority in favor of the bill. But they should be the end of the amending process. If the sponsors and the Democratic leadership allow further changes, they risk throwing the bill into conference with the Senate, where Republican opponents would have another chance to kill it. One possible further amendment would declare the entire bill invalid if the courts were to find any part of it unconstitutional. A similar amendment was rightly rejected by the Senate and should be rejected by the House as well.

Law enforcement: We have no illusions about this legislation. The critics are right that ways will sooner or later be found around it; it won't end the undue influence of money in American politics. But it likely will reduce that influence, at least for a while; it will end a crass and open circumvention of the law by both political parties. To acquiesce in the soft-money system is to declare in effect that there is no law -- that the politicians who write the law also can safely flout it. Simple law enforcement is what this bill is ultimately about.

THE KOIZUMI CURE

San Francisco Chronicle: Among free-market democracies, there is no bigger contradiction than Japan. Its prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has rock-star poll ratings showing 80 percent support while the world's second-biggest economy is in full reverse, with a negative growth rate.

Koizumi is poised to deliver major shock treatment to his country's decade-long financial slide. He's already broken the mold of drab, consensus-minded party hacks with a breezy, TV-hip manner and e-mail news line with over a million subscribers.

Now, it's showtime, the point where he needs to deliver on tough promises. None of his next steps will be easy in disciplining an economy built on special deals, overstaffed bureaucracy and fossilized banking.

While most of the world worries about rising prices caused by inflation, Japan experiences deflation, the strange phenomenon of dropping prices. It sounds attractive -- think about cheaper meals or a DVD player -- but what about wage cuts or a bank loan that must be paid at higher, older rates?

Ruling clan: In Japan, magnify these problems through hundreds of billions in deadbeat loans and feckless government policy. For a decade, an ebbing economy led the ruling clan to spend heavily on roads and big construction projects. But the treatment failed, and Japan never fully recovered from poor investments, bad loans and a crimp in fresh lending.

Koizumi comes from the party that abided all these mistakes. He's the 11th prime minister in 12 years, a trend that argues caution in believing in big promises. But in April, he popped to the top by promising tough action to worried voters, who so far adore him.

For Californians who drive Japanese cars home every night to houses filled with Japanese electronics, the fuss doesn't make sense. How could the country be in trouble? Despite its size and export savvy, Japan still needs help.




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