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Desert Bill, Threatened by GOP, Inches Ahead


WASHINGTON — The Senate on Friday overcame a procedural hurdle blocking consideration of the California desert protection bill, but the fate of the massive land-use act remains uncertain as opponents weigh further delaying tactics for next week.

The Senate voted 73 to 20 to inch the legislation forward, but proponents face the prospect of a jammed Senate calendar and a crush of mandatory, end-of-session business to complete before adjourning.

Republicans, led by retiring Sen. Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming, have the California Desert Protection Act tied up in parliamentary knots, refusing to allow the bill to go to a House-Senate conference committee.

Both houses of Congress have already passed versions of the bill by comfortable margins.

But opponents could choose to require two more cloture votes and hours of additional debate, putting the bill's final passage in serious doubt.

Sponsors of the measure need 60 votes to break through the delaying tactics, and Friday's vote shows that they clearly have sufficient sentiment on the merits of the bill. But opponents could kill the bill by continuing to delay its going to conference.

Spokesmen for Wallop said the senator had not decided on his strategy on the bill for next week.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the bill, said, "Games are being played with the desert bill's future. There are some who don't want to see any piece of legislation move forward."

The bill is politically important for Feinstein, who would like to point to a legislative victory as she wages her tense reelection battle with Rep. Mike Huffington (R-Santa Barbara).

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