Virginia Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. accused some members of the House of Representatives yesterday of a "reprehensible and deceitful" effort to sneak a bill through the Senate that would expand Manassas National Battlefield Park.
One of the accused House members, Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), when asked yesterday if he did try to sneak the park bill past the Senate, replied, "Yup."
Around 3 a.m. Sunday, during the bleary-eyed final hours of the 95th Congress, Burton said he tried to slip the Manassas park expansion proposal past the Senate as "a very discreetly worded amendment" to a Louisiana park bill.
Burton said he decided to handle the Manassas park bill as "a hopefully undiscovered item" because of his frustration with Virginia's senators Byrd (I) and William L. Scott (D), who have used their senatorial prerogative to stop the bill, which has been approved three times by the House of Representatives.
"My belief [was] that they (Scott and Byrd) were unwilling to give the House a fair open shot on the merits of the issue, then they had better do their homework," Burton said.
Under a practice known as senatorial courtesy, the Senate is unwilling to approve a bill affecting something within a state over the opposition of the state's senators.
Byrd and Scott have based their disapproval of the Manassas bill, which would expand the 8,000 acre park to include more Civil War battle sites, on a vote this spring by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors opposing the expansion.
Burton, in a telephone interview from California yesterday, said he considered the Manassas bill important for historical reasons. Because the "Senate wasn't giving it the time of day," Burton said, he decided not "to lie down and die."
In a press release yesterday, Byrd said the effort to disguise the Manassas bill was caught by the astute eyes of the Senate staff aides. The senator said he had personally read many other House-passed bills looking for the other veiled efforts to pass the bill.
Burton said he recalls running into Byrd in the Senate early Sunday morning and telling the senator that "if I'm going to stay awake all night" then so, too, would Byrd.
"Needless to say, he wasn't ecstatic with that remarks," Burton said.
The Manassas bill was introduced by Rep. Herbert E. Harris II, a Democrat from Northern Virginia's 8th District. Harris said yesterday he didn't know about Burton's effort to sneak the bill through the senate.