WASHINGTON -- It was almost a case of adding insult to injury.
In the days leading up to last week's Senate debate on the Safe Drinking Water Act, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., came up with an idea he thought would help expose the added costs and burdens that unfunded federal mandates can impose on state and local governments and their citizens.
Gregg decided to propose an amendment to the legislation that would require water utilities to spell out in billing statements the proportion of the customer's bill that is attributable to new federal requirements.
As a former governor of New Hampshire, Gregg was familiar with unfunded federal mandates and wanted to drive home how expensive and burdensome they can be.
But when word of the possible amendment spread, observers began questioning whether the proposal would be just another unfunded mandate.
Gregg apparently tried to overcome that possibility by adding a disclaimer. "The water utilities may decline to follow this provision if they determine compliance is too expensive."
In the end, however, Gregg dropped his amendment before it was ever formally introduced.
His staff would only say it was because he realized it was "just another mandate" on the states.
In the nearly two weeks of sporadic debate in the Senate on the Safe Drinking Water Act, which passed 95 to 3 on Thursday, Gregg wasn't the only senator to discuss unfunded federal mandates. The issue came up many times -- sometimes as the subject of a vague comment on the floor or, in a few instances, as a formal amendment to the bill.
Gregg did attempt to add a provision to the drinking water legislation that would have waived penalties to the state for noncompliance if the specific provision was the result of an unfunded mandate.
That amendment was rejected outright by both Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman, and Sen. John H. Chafee, R-R.I., ranking member, of the Senate committee overseeing the drinking water legislation.
This amendment would "abolish federal enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act," Baucus said.