Ensign, Reid work behind scenes to kill college sports bet ban

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Senate freshman John Ensign and veteran Democratic Sen. Harry Reid are plotting strategy to kill a bill to ban betting on college sports.

The measure proposed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and sought by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, has support from members of Congress and several high-profile college coaches.

The Nevada senators expect it to move faster than it did last year, when it failed to get to the floor for a vote.

“Harry and I have to kill it behind the scenes,” Ensign told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “If it comes up for a vote on the floor, we’ll lose.”

Ensign will take his seat in the Senate chamber for the first time Saturday.

Although Ensign isn’t a neophyte to Congress – he was in the House from 1995 to 1999 – being a senator is a whole new experience. Ensign was elected in 1994 as part of the Republican revolution led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

“We were taking Washington by storm, we had a mandate from the American people,” Ensign said.

But arriving in the Senate in 2001 is a much different experience, he said.

“In the House you couldn’t really do much unless you were part of the majority,” Ensign said. “In the Senate, one senator can kill anything unless you have the 60 votes to override. But you also can build small coalitions and get things done and that’s what I intend to do.”

Having a Democrat and a Republican representing Nevada in both houses of Congress is a boon for the state, Ensign said. Ensign can lobby Republican senators and Reid work with the Democrats.

Ensign says his spots on the Commerce and Banking committees were a pleasant surprise. It usually takes years to earn enough seniority for a spot on commerce, he said. Those two committees deal with many issues including transportation, insurance, banking and securities.

Nuclear waste will be another top priority for Ensign. He says the battle lies in the permanent storage dump, not the issue of temporarily storing waste in southern Nevada. He’s already talked with Bush Department of Energy Secretary nominee Spencer Abraham.