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Campaign finance debate opens

The U.S. Senate opened debate on campaign finance reform Monday, and supporters of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., fought off the first of dozens of expected amendments to their bill.

The initial amendment would have increased limits for donations to candidates who face wealthy opponents with personal fortunes to pour into a campaign. Backers of the reform amendment said the amendment would have opened the door to too much money.

On a 51-48 vote, the Senate killed the measure, proposed by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who said he would join Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, to fashion a new version to be considered today.

The move came amid a generally cordial start in the long anticipated debate over curbing the power and influence of cash in politics.

"Most Americans believe that we would let this nation pay any price, bear any burden for the sake of securing our own ambitions, no matter how injurious the effect might be to the national interest," McCain said.

The former presidential candidate almost single-handedly forced the Senate to commit to taking up the McCain-Feingold bill, whose chief goal is to ban unlimited, so-called "soft money" contributions that can be given to political parties for vague party-building purposes.

Despite what has been billed as an old-fashioned great Senate debate, senators Monday spoke to a largely empty chamber, with the handful of senators who attended often consulting with aides instead of listening to their colleagues speak.

As the debate opened, the leading foe of the reform effort, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, declared that the public cares little for campaign finance reform.

"It ranks right up there with static cling" as a concern for the American public, he said.

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