(Ethan Miller/Associated Press)

These days it takes a high-priced government-sponsored Las Vegas conference — featuring a mind reader and bicycle building exercises, no less — to forge agreement between Nevada’s two senators.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) have come to the defense of Sin City in the wake of the General Services Administration scandal involving a conference that cost the agency more than $800,000.

Asked Tuesday by a reporter what he made of the scandal and its potentially adverse affect on the reputation of Las Vegas, Reid said: “What the GSA did has everything to do with stupidity, it has nothing to do with Las Vegas.”

On Wednesday, Heller took to the Senate floor to give an impassioned defense of the city, using a blue placard that read “Tourism = Nevada Jobs,” as a visual aid.

“Like many taxpayers, I was shocked and disappointed to read the GSA Inspector General’s report that found inappropriate spending at a 2010 Western Regional Conference that was held in Nevada,” Heller said. “This conference was excessive, wasteful and completely ignored federal procurement laws and internal GSA policy on conference spending.

“However, I want to be clear, this is not an issue about location. This is the result of poor decision making and leadership by the GSA. Las Vegas is one of the greatest locations in the world for a conference, a meeting, or vacation. With over 148,000 hotel rooms and 10.5 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space citywide, it is ideally suited to host companies and organizations large and small.”

Heller’s speech came on the same day that The Washington Post reported that the senior GSA executive who organized the lavish Las Vegas conference took dozens of trips for the agency, often with his wife in tow — and taxpayers picked up the tab.

While Heller has every right to defend his home state — and constituents likely expect him to do so — we should note that he is locked in a close election with Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) to serve as Nevada’s junior senator. Reid is known to have pressured major campaign donors not to give money to Heller in order to defeat Heller and bolster his slim Democratic majority in the Senate.

(Earlier in the week, Berkley also defended Las Vegas, saying that “It’s not where GSA went, it’s what GSA spent. And the issue is not Las Vegas, it’s the actions of certain GSA employees who must be held accountable for their stunning lack of good judgement, blatant disregard for cost and for thumbing their noses at the rules.”)

As congressional investigations continue into GSA’s spending scandal, Heller asked his colleagues to focus only on the agency and the actions of its employees, instead on the merits of whether or not to hold events in Las Vegas.

“The convention services my state offers are the best in the world, and no town in Nevada should be singled out due to the poor judgment by the GSA,” he said. “It is my hope that all of my colleagues will focus on the misconduct of the GSA and push for new initiatives that spur growth in the tourism industry instead of blaming Nevada for the mistakes of incompetent government bureaucrats.”

That said, if “incompetent government bureaucrats” would like to attend boxing matches, auto races, trade shows, beauty pageants and presidential debates in Las Vegas on their own time, surely Reid and Heller wouldn’t mind.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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