Sunday, March 10, 2002 | 9:06 a.m.
Benjamin Grove covers Washington, D.C., for the Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or (202) 628-3100, Ext. 269.
DURING THE ANXIOUS days in February and March 2000 when Nevada's lawmakers were scrambling to line up votes in Congress against a Yucca Mountain bill, they had a quiet friend in the White House -- President Clinton adviser John Podesta.
"He was our White House contact during those very sensitive discussions about (Clinton) overriding the vote," Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said.
Clinton eventually vetoed the Yucca bill, which could have sped up shipments of nuclear waste to Nevada.
But two years later the Yucca Mountain project is still gathering steam and Nevada lawmakers have enlisted Podesta's help again -- this time as a paid lobbyist.
The move last week to hire Podesta, now teaching at Georgetown University, wasn't entirely a surprise. The Nevadans have long bemoaned the sheer number of nuclear industry lobbyists in Washington and they needed a hired gun of their own.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Podesta will complement Reid's own efforts to twist the arms of Democratic senators. Podesta will get help from his brother Anthony's influential lobby firm, PodestaMattoon.
"I'm just one person, with one staff," the Majority Whip said. "They've got a lot of ties to the environmental community. (Podesta) is a person who understands Washington. He knows how to talk to senators and staff. That's important."
As it gets closer to a vote on Yucca this year, the Nevadans could turn Podesta loose on three or four specific senators who still may be genuinely undecided about the Yucca vote, insiders said.
Podesta could put his political skills to work analyzing a particular senator's state to find its most influential pockets, for example. Podesta then could recommend whatever strategies he deemed necessary to goad the senators to the Nevada side, organizing activists in a particular city, perhaps, or ordering radio or other advertising. Berkley said Podesta, who is close with House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, can help her make the House vote look respectable even though the lower chamber is likely to overwhelmingly embrace Yucca.
"We want to have enough votes so that it's clear we didn't just roll over, leaving a huge juggernaut going into the Senate," Berkley said.
Meanwhile Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is searching for a GOP counterpart for Podesta to work the other side of the aisle. Ensign had hoped to find someone by the end of the week. But the task proved harder than expected even in a city teeming with lawyers and lobbyists.
Ensign needs someone who could work well with Podesta, is familiar with nuclear issues and has no close ties to the nuclear industry. (That last one makes it tough, even Podesta-Mattoon has a tie -- the firm represents General Electric, which provides products and services to nuclear plants.)
"We've got a couple of good prospects," Ensign said. Whoever it is, the new Nevada lobbyists have their work cut out for them. Their nuclear industry foes are working Capitol Hill even though a Yucca vote is likely months away.
One high-level aide to a Democratic senator last week told me that industry lobbyists have chatted up staffers in the senator's office, although not the senator directly. The aide said the senator, who represents a state with nuclear power reactors, is officially undecided but will likely vote in favor of Yucca.
Meanwhile, the senator probably won't come out publicly with a stated position until shortly before the vote -- it serves no purpose to irk the power-wielding Reid.
President Bush recently proposed spending at least $100 million on a welfare program to encourage people to get -- and stay -- married.
Bush recommends more premarital counseling, conflict resolution, and drug and alcohol programs, which would be good. But why not tackle the first hurdle on the path to a happy marriage -- the wedding itself?
As someone who is getting married this year (in Minnesota in November -- I know it will be cold, but do you know how hard it is to book reception rooms?), I have a few additional thoughts on how the government could spend this money.
If Bush really wants to invest in better marriages, it may be simpler for the feds to just hand couples cash directly, although $100 million wouldn't amount to much.
This year about 2.4 million couples will spend a staggering $46 billion on weddings, by one estimate. Spread among all those couples, Bush's $100 million would be a drop in the bucket, about $41 per wedding.
With that, Uncle Sam could buy each bride a cheap bouquet. An elaborate bunch of gardenias and orchids runs $350, but $40 will buy a decent handful of sterling roses and baby's breath -- one government-issue bouquet for every bride, to be tossed to the next-bride-to-be.
Who says the government can't buy a perpetual guarantee of happy marriages in America?