THIRD UPDATE: March 25, 12:15 PM. The House voted 283-140 to pass public lands bill with 136 Republicans and 4 Democrats voting “nay.” This would have been enough to pass for a super-majority, two-thirds vote.
SECOND UPDATE, March 25, 9:15 am.
This afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote on H.R. 146, the Omnibus Public Lands Bill that has become the Revolutionary Ware Battlefield Bill (see following article for details).
Yesterday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) scheduled a press conference for 12:30 pm today to discuss the vote, so you could easily interpret that as optimism of a victory.
This will be a simple-majority vote, and since the bill failed to get a two-thirds majority by only two votes two weeks ago, there’s virtually no chance the House leaders won’t round up 50 percent plus one vote.
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) was allowed six amendments in the Senate, but the Senate defeated all of them except one, which was a minor tweaking of a provision related to protection of paleonological resources.
Opponents to the bill have submitted 14 amendments, but the House Rules Committee has decided to allow no amendments. One of those 14 amendments–from Representatives Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Rob Bishop (R-UT)–would repeal the current regulations on restricting the possession of guns in national parks, which would have made the vote a pro-gun/anti-gun vote recorded for future political use. This could’ve gummed up the works and delayed the bill. Since vote on guns won’t be part of the deal, conservation group insiders working on the bill are very confident it will pass today and be sent to President Obama’s desk soon, perhaps by the end of the week.
UPDATED March 19, 11 a.m. at end of article.
Anybody interested in protecting public land knows about S.22, a massive piece of legislation, a compilation of 190 bills that Congress has been working on for years. Six days ago, it unexpectedly failed (click here), unable to get a super majority in the U.S. House of Representatives by a mere two votes, 282-144, even though the Senate had passed it 73-21.
That bad beat made political insiders scratch their heads. Why would the House leadership bring S. 22 up for a vote under suspension of rules, which requires a two-thirds majority, without the votes to pass it?
I’ve been calling around on to get the answer to that question and to find out what might happen next. Here’s the skinny on the House vote and alas, how President Obama will have the opportunity to sign this bill into law as early as next week. You could call it “revolutionary” politics.
For starters, let me clear up one misconception. The Gun Owners of America (GOA) tried to frame this defeat a victory for the Second Amendment, and the media has reported this claim. But in reality, the House vote had virtually nothing to do with guns.
But false and misleading GOA claims did make Congress antsy, especially rural Democrats, who don’t want an official vote record on any Second Amendment issue. What the press didn’t report was the House leadership agreeing in advance of the vote to a pro-gun amendment offered up by none other than the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The NRA-sponsored add-on, called the Altmire Amendment, “would assure that the provisions of S.22 will not be used to close lands that are currently open to hunting, fishing, trapping, target shooting and other forms of traditional recreation.”
That quote comes from a March 10 letter by Chris Cox, chief lobbyist for the NRA, sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader John Boehmer (R-OH). In reality, the Altmire Amendment doesn’t accomplish much except double-doing the status quo, but politically, it cr(D-CA) eated a safe landing pad for rural representatives, making their votes on S.22 pro-gun or at least 2A-neutral, regardless of incorrect claims to the contrary by GOA, which is politically right from the NRA. (Witness the GOA describing of the Altmire Amendment as the “Elmer Fudd Protection Act.”)
Simply put, S. 22 had nothing to do with the rights of gun owners or hunters. Instead, it was people philosophically opposed to protecting public land for other reasons trying to use the gun issue as cheap political scare tactics.
The real issue was Senator Tom Coburn, a staunchly anti-environmental Republican from Oklahoma who has become the new “Pombo” in Congress. The Senate had a long hard fight with Coburn who wanted to strip S. 22 of many of its most important measures, such as the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, because of false claims it took too much energy production off the market. Wrong! The bill might rob us of as much as six hours of energy consumption, but the Wyoming Range would continue to provide quality outdoor recreation and a stimulus for the local economy for the next hundred years or more. (And, Earth to Senator Coburn, your two conservative comrades from Wyoming, Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, both Republicans, support protecting the Wyoming Range and voted for S. 22.)
Speaker Pelosi was afraid to open S. 22 to amendments in the House, which would force another Senate vote (i.e. another chance for Coburn to gut it), so she decided to bring it up for a vote under the suspension of rules protocol. This procedure disallows amendments, but requires a super majority. Since more than two-thirds of the Senate, considered more conservative than the House, voted for S.22, it seems logical this would also be true in the liberal-leaning House. But I have to ask, why wouldn’t she do a caucus straw vote in advance to be sure? Hello, Nancy. S. 22 is a big deal. Was this a smart move indicative of a strong leader?
Incidentally, three Democrats–Bobby Bright (AL), John Hall (NY), and Suzanne Kosmas (FL)–missed the House vote, which likely would’ve given S. 22 a super majority, and it would already be the law of the land.
Now, we come to the American Revolutionary War and War of 1812.
Congresswoman Pelosi and Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have a new plan. As I write this on Tuesday morning, Senator Reid is busy inserting the entire contents of S. 22, plus the Altmire Amendment, into H.R. 146, the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act of 2009.
Reid plans to call for a Senate vote on H.Rs 146 tomorrow, March 18, and the House will probably vote on it under normal rules (50 percent plus one vote) on Monday or Tuesday, immediately sending it to the White House for President Obama to sign.
No I’m not making this up. S. 22 is becoming an “amendment,” albeit the longest one in history, to a small, non-controversial bill to allow acquisition of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefield sites.
Strategically (finally?), this seems like a smart move. It’s complicated, but sparing you mind-blowing details, since the House has already passed H.R. 146 and the Senate has already passed S. 22, combining the two bills limits opportunities for the Coburns of Congress gum up the works with amendments or send the legislation back to committee, which would mean months if not years of delay. Politically, and bluntly, it greases the skids to the White House.
“It’s a real civics lesson,” concludes Paul Spitler of The Wilderness Society after patiently explaining the above to me, “you know, laws and sausages,” referring to the old adage about anybody who likes law or sausage shouldn’t watch either of them being made.
“This bill protects a lot of wildlife habitat,” Chris Hunt of Trout Unlimited said as he just as patiently did the same, “and that translates into more opportunity for anglers and hunters and other recreationists. That’s the bottom line.”
From my perspective, dedicated conservationists Hunt and Spitler and many, many others who have struggled long and hard to pass S. 22 probably would describe it as a war, so it’s apropos that it has become a real battlefield bill.
UPDATE: On Thursday morning, March 19, the Senate passed S.22 again and sent it to the House where it may come up for a vote as early as Wednesday or Thursday. The margin, 77-20, was even larger than the first vote, which was 73-21.