GOP senators brush back Cruz, Coburn

GOP senators brush back Cruz, Coburn

Republican senators are coming to the defense of congressional leaders who tucked an expansion of national parks, wilderness areas and drilling programs into a defense bill.

The provisions, which represent the most significant land package since 2009, have drawn a fierce backlash from conservatives, who see it as a massive expansion of federal land holdings that should have been dealt with in a stand-alone bill.


While GOP senators acknowledged some discomfort with tacking the provisions onto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — a bill that has passed Congress for 52 straight years — they said it was a necessary step for getting them through Congress.

Some senators blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Memo: Political trench warfare colors views on coronavirus GOP embraces big stimulus after years of decrying it Five Latinas who could be Biden's running mate MORE (D-Nev.), saying his refusal to let bills reach the floor gave them few opportunities to change the federal land system.

“It’s probably not the best way to do businesses, but it’s one of those situations where it’s the best vehicle to do something that needs to be done,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump attacks WHO amid criticism of his coronavirus response Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill UN biodiversity chief calls for international ban of 'wet markets' MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who supports both the land deal and the defense bill. “So I’m OK with it.”

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Trump administration backs Oracle in Supreme Court battle against Google MORE (R-Utah) said he doesn’t blame the House and Senate negotiators who stuck the bills together.

“Usually, I prefer to keep Defense authorization bills as clean as we can,” Hatch said. “But there have been a lot of problems with lands over the years. And with Democrats not allowing anything to come up, sometimes there are very few things that you can attach things to.”

The negotiated bill was unveiled last week and sailed through the House a few days later.

In addition to authorizing the Defense Department’s programs for a year, it would create 15 new national parks, mandate studies for eight more and designate hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness. It would also expand a program to expedite oil and gas drilling permits on federal land, authorize a land swap to develop a massive copper mine in Arizona and improve the efficiency of grazing permits.

Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzLawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil Overnight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves MORE (R-Texas) and Tom 

Coburn (R-Okla.) blasted the land package, characterizing it as an expansive land grab by the government.

Cruz pushed his colleagues to vote against the defense bill, and Coburn said he would object to unanimous consent for the legislation.

While Cruz and Coburn have sway with Republican senators, their efforts might not go far.

“This is not a perfect process,” said Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns Lobbying world MORE (R-Wyo.), an Energy and Natural Resources Committee member who helped write the bipartisan package of land and energy provisions.

“Harry Reid has essentially shut down the Senate and interfered with our ability to actually legislate in a responsible way,” he said.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHouse Republicans threaten pushback on Saudi Arabia amid oil market slump Zoom, grocery delivery, self-isolation: How lawmakers are surviving coronavirus Lawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil MORE (R-Alaska), ranking member of the energy panel and its incoming chairwoman, said the strategy has precedent. The most recent significant land package in 2009 was also attached to a Defense authorization, she said.

“Coming from a Western state, when 60 percent of your state, plus, is owned by the federal government, you just can’t go to a real estate attorney and ask for help with a land conveyance. It’s an act of Congress,” Murkowski said.

“I think many of our friends back here on the East Coast, where you don’t have these public lands, fail to understand and appreciate that.”

Murkowski said the land package includes years of proposals that have gone through the Energy panel, and the entire set has bipartisan support.

“Historically, it has been tough for individual lands bills to move through the process, and it’s simply because they don’t rise to that level of concern, where you have 100 senators demanding that it take up time,” she said.

“Unfortunately, because of the way that Sen. Reid runs the Senate, we aren’t given that opportunity,” said Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenHouse Republicans threaten pushback on Saudi Arabia amid oil market slump Overnight Energy: Trump rollback of Obama mileage standards faces court challenges | Court strikes down EPA suspension of Obama greenhouse gas rule | Trump floats cutting domestic oil production Lawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil MORE (R-N.D.). “And that’s the problem.”

Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoLobbying blitz yields wins for airlines, corporations, banks, unions Stimulus empowers Treasury to rescue airlines with billion in direct assistance White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package MORE (R-Idaho) said he supports the land package overall but said it still might not get his vote.

“I don’t think it’s the best process to put it on the NDAA bill,” he said. “I have problems with the NDAA bill otherwise, and so I may or may not be voting for it.”