Clout in Washington

8 September 2000
It's a long way from Civics 101 to reality in how this country is governed, but fortunately there is a daily refresher course: the United States Congress. Yesterday was a prime example. The majority leader of the Senate, Trent Lott, tried to schedule a debate on the lingering legislation to ban Las Vegas from betting on college sports. Supported by the NCAA and the two principal backers of such legislation, senators Sam Brownback of Kansas and John McCain of Arizona, Lott proposed two hours of debate starting on Sept. 26.

It may come as a surprise to those who naively remember their civics days, but senators can block legislation if they have serious objections to it, and up jumped two who did. Harry Reid and Richard Bryan of Nevada, who take good care of the Las Vegas gambling industry in the senate, have blocked the legislation before, and did again.

Reid, nobly noting that there were only 20 days to do business before the Congress is scheduled to quit on Oct. 6, said it was "incredulous that we would be asked to waste time debating the merits of banning legalized gambling on college games." Bryan said doing so "would be every illegal bookie's dream." Both acknowledged that the ban probably would pass if it reached a vote, so they exercised their right to block it.

Brownback, frustrated again, said that "virtually every college in America has asked for this legislation" adding that the Senate would have needed only two hours to deal with the matter. After Lott gave up and moved on to other matters in the face of Bryan's and Reid's opposition, Bryan admitted that Lott probably could have forced the bill through if he could commit days to procedural fights, but that "in my judgment he cannot do that because his first priority is to adjourn by Oct. 6."