Cruz decries 'extreme land grab' in defense bill

Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office Kasich touts poll showing he does better against Clinton than Trump Two transgender candidates win primaries MORE (R-Texas) on Wednesday called for his colleagues to reject an annual defense bill because of the “extreme land grab” tacked onto the measure.

The bipartisan proposed bill, released late Tuesday, includes a variety of public land and energy provisions, including designating new national parks and wilderness areas, and speeding the permitting process for oil and gas drilling, and energy and mineral measures.

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Cruz called the provisions and the decision to attach them to the National Defense Authorization Act “an extreme land grab to the NDAA [that] is a disservice to members of the Armed Forces.”

“With the military’s shrinking budget, it is offensive that this bill would be used to fund congressional pork,” Cruz, a top subject of speculation for the 2016 presidential election, said in a statement Wednesday.

“And, at a time where jobs are scarce, and the federal government has removed billions of acres of land from productive use, Congress should not be restricting more than a half-million new acres,” he said.

Cruz’s statement focused on the conservation aspects of the public land package, including 250,000 acres of new wilderness designations; 400,000 acres of land taken out of commercial use; and 15 new national parks or park expansions.

The defense bill is considered must-pass legislation, as it authorizes Defense Department operations.

Cruz asked the House and Senate to reject the bill, which he called an attempt by “self-serving politicians” to exploit service members.

The top senators from both parties who are responsible for the defense bill defended it Wednesday.

“Hopefully, people will be persuaded that this is a bipartisan, [Energy and Natural Resources] Committee package, bicameral, that has been thoroughly vetted by the committee, and will not object to its passage,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

“It’s hard to get things done around here, and it’s not the ideal way to legislation, obviously,” he added, noting that the Energy panel supports the package.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, said he agreed with Republicans who oppose the land provisions but defended them as necessary to passing the defense measure.

“It’s outrageous,” he said. “I dislike it just as much as anybody else. But you have to have a bill. That’s what people lose sight of.”

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the move is not out of the ordinary.

“As it has traditionally done, this year's annual national defense bill contains natural resources provisions that are the result of a bipartisan agreement,” Hastings said in a statement.

“The agreement offers a balanced approach to public lands management, providing opportunities for new job creation and energy and mineral production, while simultaneously protecting special areas,” he said.

— Martin Matishak contributed to this report, which was updated at 2:37 p.m.