Democrats resort to banana bread

  • Cartoon of Gingrich with elephant/Greenberg/Courtesy Seattle Pos

    ntelligencer
 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The scene was vintage Washington power breakfast: a private room at the Old Ebbitt Grill across from the Treasury Department. The table held plates of bagels and banana bread. The burgundy napkins complemented the Oriental rug and the velvet chairs. Those are the lures reporters expect from a deposed potentate or a corporation anxious to burnish a tarnished image.

All the more strange, then, that the people hoping to attract the press were two Democrats who just three months ago would have had journalists grateful for a returned phone call.

California Reps. George Miller and Henry Waxman were until very recently the most powerful environmentalists in the House of Representatives, as chairmen, respectively, of the Natural Resources Committee and the health and environment subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Miller has been in Congress for 20 years; Waxman, 26. In those years, they masterminded much of the country's most significant environmental legislation: timber and water reform, safe drinking water standards, Tongass National Forest protection and new energy conservation standards to the monumental 1990 Clean Air Act reauthorization.

But here they were on a gray February morning, offering two dozen reporters a disquieting blend of hand-wringing, pleading and frustration. Two days before, Miller and Waxman had seen three House subcommittees ram through chunks of the GOP "Contract With America" designed to bury all existing federal regulations under a complex cost-benefit analysis requiring the cheapest alternatives. The bills, HR 450 and Title III of HR 9, are being fast-tracked as part of House Speaker Newt Gingrich's 100-day plan to implement the Contract.

In one swoop the bills would, as Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner has said, "undermine every single environmental and public health standard in the country."

Many of those standards the two California congressmen spent most of their adult lives creating. During the Reagan-Bush years, conservatives mounted a campaign to neuter the country's environmental regulations under the rubric of "regulatory reform." They failed, but they didn't go away.

Now the angry opposition is running the show, and the agenda for gutting the regulatory process, carefully focus-grouped and retitled the "Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act," is flying through the committees. And Miller and Waxman, former masters of the House, seem helpless to influence events.

"In the House of Representatives there is not any indication that anyone in the Republican side is interested in any compromise or consensus," Waxman said. "We probably will be offering alternatives that we hope will be considered sensible ... but we're not under any illusions. They don't see a reason to try to accommodate us."

"It's important that we have alternatives," Miller added, so bills cannot be hidden behind misleading titles, such as "Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act." "It is not that we think we're going to win those votes, but to pull these apart ... so the media can pull them apart and show the American public what the effect will be."

Clearly those alternatives, whatever they are, are not going to sway the new congressional majority. And it was hard to imagine a media campaign, even a media campaign involving a lot more reporters than the bagel-fed contingent in this room, rallying the public to the dangers of the Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act before it passed the House.

Maybe, Miller said, they'd have better luck in the Senate, where Newt Gingrich doesn't set the agenda, and which takes "100 years' to do what the House does in 100 days.

"But we worry still about junky bills getting through the Senate," Waxman said. "The (Clinton) administration will be under intense pressure to sign these bills."

So here were two senior legislators writing off the House, saying that the Senate was iffy and President Clinton even shakier. Where's the environmental lobby, the people who are supposed to be defending conservation interests in Washington?

"The environmental community is getting reactivated," Waxman said, with more than a hint of wistfulness.

Shortly after the election, the major environmental groups turned their lobbying efforts toward moderate Republicans in the House and Senate, such as Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I. They also set to picking apart the 600-plus page Contract and mobilizing their members to protest its anti-conservation aspects. Thus far, those efforts have had no perceptible effect on the legislative juggernaut.

"In some ways, the sooner we get these laws passed ..." Miller, always the more pugnacious of the two men, interjected, "there will be the emergence of a far different environmental movement that will be locally based, because there will no longer be national standards."

"I think (the Republicans) are going to pay a heavy price in 1996," Waxman concluded, effectively writing off a congressional session that has only just begun.

Nancy Shute is a reporter in Washington, D.C.

High Country News Classifieds
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!