LAS VEGAS - Chances of a vote on a controversial nuclear waste bill are growing slimmer as Congress nears adjournment, but a protracted budget battle between President Clinton and Republicans could change the politicial landscape.
Republican leaders appear determined to try and vote on the issue in the waning days of the current session, but may postpone any action until Congress reconvenes in January.
That's the assessment of Sens. Richard Bryan and Harry Reid, who have led the fight to kill the controversial bill in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the influential Capitol Hill publication CongressDaily speculated Thursday that the bill would be dropped this session, but would top the agenda when Congress returns in January.
''Every day that goes by is a good day for Nevada,'' Bryan, D-Nev., said Thursday. ''But we're just not quite sure what is going to happen. No news is good news.''
Reid, Senate minority whip, said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told him Wednesday he was going to bring the bill up.
Congress is pushing for adjournment Wednesday, leaving little time to debate the bill that would send 77,000 tons of radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
''If we're going to adjourn by Wednesday, it's very unlikely they could take final action on the bill,'' Bryan said.
Reid agreed it would be tough to consider the bill in the current session if Congress sticks to the suggested adjournment timetable.
But he said the bill's backers may make a move in the waning days because ''there's a huge entourage of lobbyists and government relations people'' supporting the nuclear industry ''and this is a way to pacify them.''
If the budget battle pushes adjournment past Wednesday, it would leave more time for the nuclear waste bill to be debated this session, Bryan and Reid said.
The bill would provide for storage of radioactive waste building up at nuclear power plants nationwide.
Bryan said there are five appropriations bills that need to be resolved between Congress and Clinton. If those are resolved quickly, adjournment could come Wednesday as planned.
Backers of the bill say it's unlikely a Wednesday adjournment would give them time to push for a vote on the nuclear waste bill.
''If they tried to bring this up now, we could derail the adjournment express,'' Bryan said.
CongressDaily said Thursday that Republicans are vowing the bill will top the agenda when the Senate reconvenes in January, if no action is taken this session.
Lott has threatened to file a cloture motion to limit debate on the bill, whether it surfaces now or in 2000.
Clinton has promised to veto any bill targeting the nuclear waste for Nevada. Reid and Bryan believe they have the necessary 34 votes in the Senate to sustain a presidential veto.