On paper the federal legislative process looks simple: A bill is proposed, it is approved by a committee, then it is approved by either the full Senate or House of Representatives. Then it is approved by the other chamber, then it goes to a conference committee where differences are worked out. Then it goes to the president for approval -- and then it becomes a law of the land.
If it fails at any stage, it is discarded.
But in Washington, powerful and unscrupulous lawmakers have learned to subvert and manipulate the process by surreptitiously placing special-interest language into various, and sometimes unrelated, legislation.
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama did just that by the way he inserted himself into the regional water-rights fight.
Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been trying for decades to work out a solution to their common water problems along the Chattahoochee and Tallapoosa river basins -- problems caused mainly by the massive growth of Atlanta and exacerbated by the prolonged drought.
At times this has degenerated into a slugfest reminiscent of the cattlemen/homesteaders water fights of the old West.
Lately the governors of the various states, with help from the White House, have looked as if they might come to some equitable agreement. To facilitate this, the U.S. Corps of Engineers began the two-year process of rewriting its operations manuals that spell out how the federally controlled flow is allocated. Georgia officials say this is necessary because the manuals are antiquated, and do not reflect Atlanta's growth. Eastern Alabamans, worried about their fair share, want an agreement spelled out before the manuals are updated.
Shelby has been trying to assure just that by proposing legislation barring the Corps from going ahead. Several early tries died, so using his clout on the Senate Appropriations Committee, he subverted the system by attaching an amendment to the massive $555 billion, year-end federal spending bill that recently was approved.
Outraged over the subterfuge, Georgia's Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson vowed a fix, but they will have to wait until the next year's spending bill. They say they knew about the amendment when it was first introduced, but assumed it would not make it through the legislative process.
Old fox Shelby must have been chuckling on his way back to Alabama for Christmas. He outsmarted his colleagues, but did little to help anyone or anything.
We're confident our Georgia senators won't let such a tactic weasel past them again on the tri-state water issue. Isakson and Chambliss realize how important this is -- and they certainly don't want to look all wet.