Nevada's senators have a publicly cordial relationship even as they differ on most issues, and even as senior Democrat Harry Reid would much rather see junior Republican Dean Heller defeated in November.
But Reid pulled no punches in a radio interview last week when asked what he thought of "No Budget, No Pay," a bill that Heller has made a signature initiative in his election campaign.
On KNPR-FM, 88.9, interviewer Dave Becker had not finished asking about the legislation when Reid jumped in.
"You know what I think of that bill? I think it's stupid," Reid said.
"No Budget, No Pay" would withhold lawmaker salaries in years when they fail to meet deadlines to pass a federal budget and the 12 appropriations bills. Unlikely to become law, still it has become a vehicle for public frustration over gridlock in Congress, where Reid is majority leader in the Senate.
At a hearing in March, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, said the initiative "expresses and frames the public mood toward Congress today. Somebody said to me it's like a scream. And it's a scream, whether you agree with it or not, that has to be heard and responded to."
"No Budget, No Pay" has been embraced by No Labels, a good-government group founded by former politicians of both parties who say they want Capitol Hill to work better. But it also has been criticized as a too-easy-to-explain, feel-good plan that feeds cynicism about Congress.
"To me it is pandering of the worst sort, playing to voters' worst instincts about Congress," scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in March. " 'No Budget, No Pay' would drive some out of Congress and discourage others to run."
With "No Budget, No Pay," Heller "is way off on a tangent that is just so ridiculous," Reid said.
Whether or not Congress even is operating under a budget this year has been a matter of debate. Lawmakers have not passed a stand-alone budget resolution, and instead are attempting to meet spending levels enacted last August as part of a deal to extend the government's borrowing powers.
Reid said that's the same thing as a budget. Republicans say it's not.
"We have a budget right now," Reid said. "It's law. We have numbers for this year."
Heller spokesman Stewart Bybee said the debate over budgeting underscores the need for clearer rules.
"Only in Washington does it make sense to say passing a budget is stupid and unnecessary - and people wonder how we got in this mess," Bybee said.
- Steve Tetreault
MAKING CONVENTION PLANS
On the Democratic side, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley plan to attend their party's national convention in Charlotte, N.C., although perhaps not for all four days, Sept. 3-6.
On the Republican side, U.S. Rep. Joe Heck is a no, U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei is a tentative yes and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller is a maybe, depending on whether he's given a prime-time speaking role at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 27-30. Otherwise, Heller said he'd rather stay home in Nevada and campaign for the Senate.
"There are probably some pretty good speakers that are in the queue a little bit higher than me," Heller said in an interview last week as he campaigned in Las Vegas. "But that's OK."
High-profile speaking roles at the two parties' conventions are hard to get. They often go to rising stars who can help the presidential ticket or to established political players who are popular on the stump. Some candidates also are given speaking slots to raise their profiles at home and give them a taste of the spotlight.
But it's easy to get overshadowed or ignored by convention-goers when speaking outside prime-time TV slots.
In 2008 in Denver, Reid spoke to the Democratic National Convention as the powerful Senate majority leader who went on to help Barack Obama win Nevada and the presidency. Reid spoke on a Wednesday, an hour before former President Bill Clinton wowed the crowd, as part of the warm-up act.
"A hum of conversation continued on the floor as Reid spoke of the need for energy independence to ensure national security, bashed Republican candidate John McCain and President (George) Bush, and praised his party's nominee, Barack Obama," according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal account.
Then-Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid was in the audience that evening listening to his father. He called it "a proud moment for Nevada and for me as a son."
Sen. Reid's office said last week it's not yet known whether he'll get a speaking role this year.
Plans for Berkley haven't been set either, although she's one of the elected national delegates from Nevada.
Heck isn't even considering attending the Republican convention because he's so busy in August.
He's scheduled to serve two weeks of active duty with the U.S. Army Reserve, where he's a colonel supervising a medical readiness support group, his spokesman, Greg Lemon, said. Heck then plans to spend the rest of the congressional recess working in his district, campaigning and taking time with his family.
"That busy schedule will not allow him to go to Tampa for a week," Lemon said.
Lemon said Heck's absence from the convention should not be read as any statement on Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential candidate who will officially become the nominee when delegates vote for him at the convention. Heck was Romney's earliest supporter in Nevada and is co-chair of his campaign in the state, Lemon noted.
Four years ago, Heller skipped the Republican National Convention to campaign at home in Nevada. Back then, he was seeking re-election to Congress and easily won a second term.
Now, as an appointed U.S. senator, Heller faces a tough race against Berkley and has a lot of work to do.
Heller said he doesn't expect to know about a possible speaking role until August.
"If they want us to speak, we'll probably be there," Heller said. "If they don't choose for us to get a good speaking position, we'll probably stay here and campaign."
Heller attended two previous Republican National Conventions: in Philadelphia in 2000 and in New York in 2004.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, the first Hispanic governor of Nevada, plans to attend the Republican National Convention this summer, but the details haven't been worked out yet, a spokesman said.
Sandoval is the sort of popular Latino political figure who could win a speaking slot at the convention. The governor's office said his schedule is being held open during the convention as he and other Republicans across the nation wait to hear what role, if any, they might play.
At one point, Sandoval was considered a possible vice presidential running mate for Romney. But the Nevada governor has repeatedly said he has no interest and wants to run for re-election in 2014.
- Laura Myers
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter..