While filibusters threatening a bill to complete the Central Utah Project are finally fizzling, two Cabinet members are now urging President Bush to veto the bill if it passes.
Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan and Agriculture Secretary Edward Madigan are advising Bush to veto the huge Western water projects bill - which would include CUP completion - because of controversial California provisions in it.Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, and three other Western senators met with White House Chief of Staff James Baker late Tuesday to try to persuade Bush not to veto it.
"We gave him our best arguments. He said he appreciated our visit and would report it to the president. But he gave no indication what the president would do," Garn said.
That came as the Senate reached an agreement to proceed Wednesday and Thursday with votes to cut off three filibusters that Garn still worries may keep the bill from even reaching the president.
He worries delays from them also threaten a land trade that could bring $50 million to $200 million to Utah schools.
Sen. John Seymour, R-Calif., is filibustering the water project bill - which affects projects in 13 states - because he says it would take too much Central Valley Project water from California farmers and cities to use for fish protection and other environmental concerns.
Seymour also was helped by two other filibusters - against a tax bill and an energy bill - plus the Yom Kippur Jewish holiday from sundown Tuesday to sundown Wednesday that stopped all Senate votes.
"It's the most unlucky circumstances imaginable for us," said Garn, who had hoped to have the CUP bill passed by Wednesday because many senators are anxious to go home to run election campaigns and may not stay to vote on the water bill if delays continue.
A compromise stuck late Tuesday to allow Seymour to propose, debate and have a vote on an alternate water project bill Wednesday evening, and if it fails, to allow a final vote on the current bill on Thursday.
The compromise came after delaying tactics by Seymour that included insisting - as allowed by rules - that clerks read aloud all 375 pages of the water projects bill. That took more than eight hours.
Before that, the Senate was stalled by a nearly 16-hour filibuster by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., who complained a tax bill would destroy 875 jobs at a New York typewriter plant.
Another filibuster by Nevada's two senators is protesting an energy bill that may lead to a hazardous waste dump at Yucca Mountain. That had put holds on all public lands bills - including the Utah land exchange. However, Utah members persuaded the Nevadans to release that bill when votes finally proceed.
Delays and filibusters are nothing new for the CUP bill, which has been held up for three years by Californians who tied it and other popular projects into the same bill to force Congress to work out controversial redistribution of Central Valley Project water.
"It seems like one reason the public is so upset with Congress. We can't play straight, we have to play games," Garn said.
He and the other senators argued to the White House that Seymour - who is behind in his race for re-election - should have proclaimed political victory for all the concessions he already gained from people such as House Interior Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., in fights over the CVP.
"The political reality is they're never going to get a better deal than they are right now," Garn said. "If Bill Clinton wins, they've been had. Even if Bush wins, George Miller is still going to be here. He won't be any more agreeable than he is now."