Reid's `Dead-of-Night' Maneuvers on Measure Contradict Pledge By Ryan J. Donmoyer

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who has pledged to stop ``dead-of-night legislating,'' did a little of his own in the final hours of this year's congressional session.

Reid slipped two home state projects into the last major bill Congress passed last week: a transfer of federal land in Nevada to state and private control that's almost two-thirds the size of Rhode Island; and a $4 million grant for a hospice. Neither had been approved by any congressional committee.

Reid said the land measure will help Las Vegas and other cities in his state grow and the hospice money rights a flawed Medicare ruling. One senator and some government watchdog groups criticized the actions, pointing to promises by Reid and the new Democratic majority in Congress to change a lawmaking process known for targeted funding and secretive deals.

``Doing anything last minute shoved into an irrelevant measure -- that's exactly what Harry Reid said he was going to stop,'' said Steve Ellis, vice president of programs at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based nonprofit that monitors government spending. ``It goes against the grain of transparency and openness.''

Not all of Reid's Nevada constituents are happy with the results. Approval of the land measure surprised a major purported beneficiary, the government of White Pine County.

County Drops Support

The county commission voted late last month to drop support for the measure because it didn't contain federal funding for a study of water supplies in the region that might help prevent Las Vegas, the state's biggest city, from taking the area's water via a pipeline.

``We were told it was dead if we included water in there and that it wasn't going anywhere,'' said Gary Perea, one of the commissioners. ``I think Reid backstabbed us. It was not on the up-and-up to attach this legislation to a bill he knew had a good chance of passing as they neared the end of Congress.''

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Reid's actions didn't constitute ``dead-of-night'' legislating because his request was the subject of extensive negotiations earlier in the week among congressional leaders over what to include in the measure.

Reid called House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas on Dec. 7 to remind him of an earlier agreement to include the land legislation when a draft released that day didn't include it, Manley said. The House Rules Committee added Reid's measure at about 10:30 p.m. at Thomas's request. Thomas, who is retiring, is a California Republican.

`Budget-Buster'

In floor debate the next night, New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg, the chairman of the Budget Committee, cited the hospice provision as one of a litany of special-interest items he said made the bill a $39 billion ``budget-buster.''

Gregg also opposes the land measure because ``it's not tax- related,'' his spokeswoman Betsy Holahan said. ``It's for Nevada only. It wasn't approved by committee. It was not an appropriate place for that to be attached.''

In a Nov. 13 speech on the Senate floor, Reid vowed that Democrats would ``stop dead-of-night legislating by opening meetings to the public'' and making House-Senate reports on legislation available on the Internet.

Reid introduced the land legislation with Nevada's other senator, Republican John Ensign, in August. He testified at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests in November; the committee never acted on it. Perea said Reid's office informed him the measure wouldn't pass with the water study.

The commission was told gaming and construction interests in Las Vegas feared a water study would show the diversion of water wasn't possible without causing drought in eastern Nevada, Parea, said.

Water-Neutral

Reid spokesman Joe Summers said the federal land was designed to be ``water-neutral'' because the water fight was an intrastate issue.

The water battle is a subtext to the land legislation. Among other things, Reid's legislation would convert 550,000 acres of federal land near Ely, Nevada into wilderness and gradually sell up to another 45,000 to private developers; 15 percent of the proceeds would go to local needs, and the other 85 percent would pay for maintaining the wilderness areas.

The bill was also championed by Nevada's other senator, Republican John Ensign. Reid testified at a Nov. 16 Senate hearing on the proposal.

The White Pine measure was the third land deal engineered by Reid in five years, an effort to encourage growth in a state where 87 percent of the land is owned by the federal government.

No Surprise

Environmental groups are split over the White Pine land bill. Sharon Netherton, executive director of Friends of the Nevada Wilderness, a coalition of state and environmental groups that back the deal, said no one should be surprised Reid worked to get the measure passed.

Chris Krupp, staff attorney for the Seattle-based Western Land Project, which opposes the transfer of federal land to private ownership, said it was inappropriate for Reid to have secured a late-night deal that has polarized his constituents.

``Whatever they said about doing things differently, this is a case of `do as I say, not as I do,''' Krupp said.

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