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August 20, 2019

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Letter from Washington:

Heller, Berkley work to carve names into debt reduction supercommittee

2011 Memorial Day Ceremony

Steve Marcus

Sen. Dean Heller, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Shelley Berkley applaud during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City Monday, May 30, 2011.

The paper wars are coming.

As 2012 Nevada Senate candidates Dean Heller and Shelley Berkley lock in on each other for the race to replace John Ensign, they’re going to be throwing a lot of paper past each other.

Since the debt-ceiling bill passed, we’ve begun to see some of it fly.

It started when Heller wrote a letter to Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, just days after the bill passed that he didn’t vote for, asking them to make the proceedings of the deficit-reduction supercommittee, which Congress had just set up, televised and open to the public.

When that letter didn’t get much attention, he teamed up with his pal Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida (they started in the House as Republicans in 2007, the year Democrats took over both chambers), who did vote for the debt-ceiling bill, to send similar letters to each of the committee’s 12 members last week.

That caught the attention of the national media.

Days later, a tweet from the Berkley campaign, through its Berkley4Senate Twitter account, caught my attention: “Pls RT & sign Shelley’s petition! Tell the Super Committee to close special interest loopholes & protect Medicare: http://t.co/VPCaKyb.”

Heller writes a baker’s dozen letters to lawmakers? Berkley goes for more in a letter-writing campaign?

Lawmakers are always vying to get their names on documents, as long as they’re the ones doing the writing. Berkley and Heller are not immune to that allure, although neither ranks among the most prolific scribes in Congress. After all, writing good bills brings the author good press.

Putting pen to papyrus to urge a change of course on questionable bills doesn’t hurt either, and that’s what Heller and Berkley are doing: he on the process, she on the content.

Absent their efforts, neither Heller’s nor Berkley’s names would be even remotely attached to the supercommittee process.

With Heller in the Senate and Berkley still in the House, the two don’t have that many level playing fields to prove their commitment and engagement to serving the people of Nevada as they run for office.

There’s always Nevada bills: the traditionally bipartisan homegrown efforts that lately have started to get political.

But other than that, there’s not much.

Berkley and Heller used to sit opposite each other on the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the House. But when Heller moved to the Senate to serve out the remainder of Ensign’s term, it broke up the made-for-C-Span committee room rivalry.

The supercommittee process, however, puts them back in the same boat.

The fact that the House and Senate are joined at the hip in this process — no chamber can opt out, rush their bill along, or refuse to vote on the committee product come December — is a rare uniting and equalizing force in Congress.

Although neither Heller nor Berkley was tapped to be one of the 12 lawmakers on the supercommittee, it’s clear that neither plans to sit idly on the sidelines.

We’ll see if they pitch any more paper into the mix, and whether it’s of the tiger variety, or the kind that lets lawmakers cut their way into the discussion.

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