Sunday, May 13, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Better late than never? When it comes to legislation, it depends on whom you ask.
Sen. Dean Heller’s campaign opened the last week with an emperor’s-clothes shot at Rep. Shelley Berkley. The complaint: The congresswoman has been putting out news releases left and right promising bills but then waiting several weeks to months — too long, they say — to file them.
It took three months for her to file a bill to extend Nevadans’ ability to deduct sales taxes after announcing she would, they pointed out; before that, it took two months for her to produce a much-heralded bill on energy credits. Neither bill was particularly original, save for the cost offsets, which weren’t what she promised (Berkley substituted a surtax on millionaires for a repeal of Big Oil subsidies on the sales tax bill).
“She’s off claiming herself to be a workhorse when she’s really a showhorse,” Heller campaign spokeswoman Chandler Smith said. “It’s looking a lot like chasing headlines.”
The jab precipitated a collective eye-roll from the Berkley campaign, and an equally pointed defense: Heller shouldn’t criticize how Berkley files bills when he’s not making a similar effort to file legislation.
“Dean Heller is attacking Shelley Berkley for being thorough and deliberate before introducing legislation?” Nevada Democrats spokesman Zac Petkanas said. “Someone in Sen. Heller’s position shouldn’t be giving lectures on how a bill becomes law.”
It’s important to give this debate a little context: Even if these two were not deadlocked in the Nevada Senate race, it’s highly unlikely that any of the bills they file will become law.
Berkley, as a non-senior member of the minority party of the House, is hamstrung by her position. Heller, as a freshman in the minority of the Senate, is equally compromised.
But that’s freed them up to approach their bill-writing in a way that serves their campaigns.
“They’re both playing politics with their bill submissions,” said UNR political science professor Eric Herzik. “Heller can criticize Berkley, and he’s right. But it’s not like he entered this with clean hands. ... For Heller to complain about this is, in a sense, dodging the issue she’s bringing up. It’s like, ‘How dare she make me uncomfortable.’ ... They’re both trying to use the bill submission process to bolster their image, knowing full well that nothing will really get done.”
Heller hasn’t filed as many bills as Berkley; his campaign says that he’s been more selective. Heller wrote a letter to Senate leaders in early February urging them to extend the sales tax deduction as part of the payroll tax cut bill; two weeks later, Berkley announced she’d file the sales tax bill that she produced last week.
But since then, Berkley’s been the trendsetter. Heller responded to her filing a bill to extend renewable energy tax credits in March by filing a bill to reduce gas prices — by a penny per gallon, it turned out — three weeks later. He also piggybacked on Berkley’s announcement that she’d file a bill to prohibit blacklisting cities from hosting government conferences and then beat her to the punch by filing his one-page bill in late April (Berkley’s one-page bill hit the books last week).
A few weeks here or there for bills that may thrive on the campaign but are destined for the congressional dustbin may not seem like a big deal. But these campaigns are also quibbling about minutes: 33 of them, to be exact.
That’s the amount of time that elapsed between when Heller sent out his first news release on the topic Monday and when the House gaveled into session, allowing Berkley’s bills to be officially entered into the record. That’s also enough time, apparently, to allow the campaigns to argue about whether Heller’s news release spurred Berkley into action or Berkley being poised to file caused Heller’s campaign to take an eleventh-hour shot.
Doesn’t it make you miss when we used to argue about things like health care, immigration, energy?
“It’s a little bit inside baseball-ish,” UNLV political science professor David Damore said. “It’s just sniping.”