House Republicans abandoned a last-minute attempt to limit individual political donations to independent organizations Sunday, setting up for passage a military measure that had been stalled by the effort.
GOP leaders had sought to attach the campaign finance legislation to a final defense bill, a move aimed at hampering Democratic-aligned groups such as MoveOn.org that were a powerful voice in 2004 and could threaten GOP candidates next year.
A bipartisan group in the Senate joined House Democrats in criticizing the 11th-hour maneuver and refusing to sign off on the plan.
The standoff had put into question the fate of the bill that sets Pentagon policy and, like a separate defense spending measure, includes a ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign terrorism suspects in U.S. custody as well as other restrictions on detainee interrogation and prosecution.
It would have been the first time in more than 40 years Congress would have failed to send the president an authorization bill setting Pentagon policy.
Mindful of that, Rep. Duncan Hunter, the House Armed Services Committee chairman in charge of negotiations to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the defense bill, was determined not to let that streak be broken on his watch.
Hunter, R-Calif., spent Sunday working to convince a group of fellow House Republicans to drop their effort to attach the campaign finance measure to the defense bill.
They agreed late Sunday, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., sent word that the defense bill would be voted on before the chamber adjourned for the year.
Three other lawmakers leading House-Senate negotiations on the defense bill _ Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo. _ objected to adding campaign finance legislation to a wartime defense measure.
“The Republicans in the House realized that it’s important to have a defense bill and extraneous matters have no business being in it _ but that took quite some time for that realization to settle in,” said Skelton, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
House Republicans said their legislation would fix the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that elevated the influence of organizations that operate during election years under a tax-law provision that leaves their activities less regulated than those of political parties.
Republicans want to bar groups like MoveOn.org, which attacked President Bush’s re-election drive in 2004, from being able to use unlimited amounts of money often donated by millionaires to buy advertising that mentions federal candidates.
GOP-leaning groups, like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which in 2004 attacked Democratic nominee John Kerry, also would be restricted by the legislation. But they raised far less money during the last election cycle than their Democratic counterparts.