Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) routinely bullies bureaucrats and House colleagues, but this summer he's got a U.S. senator in his cross hairs.
His target is Sen. Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.), who had the temerity to advocate legislation stomping on Dingell's sacred cow: the auto industry. Bryan's bill would require Detroit to build cars that get better gas mileage.
Dingell went nuclear with a direct hit on Nevada. He is pushing legislation to strip Nevada of any voice in whether Yucca Mountain will serve as the nation's nuclear junkyard.
Congressional sources told our associate Jim Lynch that the bill is serving, in part, as a retaliatory strike, a way of serving notice that Dingell, a House superpower, will not tolerate missiles lobbed in the direction of Detroit.
Under Dingell's direction, his powerful Energy and Commerce Committee staff drafted the Yucca Mountain legislation, then slipped it over to a subcommittee chaired by his friend and fellow auto-industry advocate, Rep. Philip R. Sharp (D-Ind.).
Nevada's congressional delegation is still reeling from the attack, alleging that it's punitive and vindictive. The Dingell-backed bill stipulates that Nevada also not be allowed to block the creation of a temporary nuclear dump site while scientists study the suitability of a permanent site.
The Yucca Mountain controversy has created major fallout in Nevada. The 1987 legislation that narrowed the disposal site prospects to Yucca Mountain alone is infamous in Nevada. Bryan won election to the Senate after his predecessor's ineffectiveness in blocking the bill became a campaign issue.
Nevada has balked at signing the permits the government needs to conduct the multibillion-dollar tests that will determine whether the site can safely store radioactive waste for 10,000 years.
The combatants, Bryan and Dingell, have held a summit to discuss the offending Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) legislation. Bryan has been careful not to overreach with Dingell. He understands Dingell can block any bill that angers the automakers, and has assailed the industry while conspicuously avoiding Dingell.
Despite efforts not to personalize the battle, Dingell is treating the matter like an attack on his sovereignty, ordering his staff to write legislation that amounts to a hit on his mismannered colleague.
Dingell recently told the nuclear trade press that the siting of a "high-level repository for nuclear waste . . . has greatly elevated in importance from my viewpoint in light of the great interest shown by the junior senator from Nevada in increasing CAFE standards."
Dingell was unavailable for comment. But a committee staff member put a more public-spirited spin on his boss's action by arguing that the bill reflected legitimate concerns about delays in establishing a permanent nuclear dump site. The staff member also asserted the House bill was a "compromise" and softer than the Senate bill.
In the past, Dingell has made no apologies for playing hardball. As he explained early in his career: "Occasionally, I'm going to have to do ugly things that hurt me politically. But I was sent here to win."