Energy & Environment

Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote

The Senate voted 65-19 early Friday morning to advance a bipartisan conservation bill after lawmakers couldn’t reach a deal to skip the procedural vote. 

The vote, conducted after 1:00 a.m., was required to advance the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $900 million annually in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The LWCF funds conservation projects like acquiring land for national parks, and the legislation would separately put $6.5 billion towards addressing a maintenance backlog in the National Park system. 

The Senate will take three additional votes on Monday on the bill. Absent an 11th-hour snag, it is expected to pass early next week. 

Sleepy-eyed senators returned to the Capitol in the middle of the night after some members refused to give unanimous approval to move up the vote. 

A private stalemate over the bill spilled into public view on Thursday afternoon when GOP senators warned that they expected to have to return to the Capitol for the rare 1 a.m. vote Friday. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved to end debate on the lands bill Wednesday, meaning under Senate rules the earliest he could have the first vote was as soon as 1 a.m. on Friday absent an agreement. 

Senators routinely agree to move up votes, or delay it until Monday, so that they can leave Washington mid-Thursday. But GOP senators said there was no sign that a deal would be worked out amid a stalemate over allowing amendment votes, none of which are expected to be held. 

“We would have to have consent, and we don’t have that,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said about trying to get an earlier vote. “I think that’s primarily over the amendment process.”  

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) added that some senators want votes on amendments to the bill and “this is their way of sending a message.” 

Any sign that the stalemate might thaw out and let the Senate avoid a middle-of-the-night session appeared unlikely earlier Thursday evening, when Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) warned that they were “tracking” for a 1 a.m. vote. 

The Senate bill is currently on track to be wrapped up without any amendment votes, something that has frustrated senators who want changes to the bill. 

“This legislation was written as if on stone tablets, there is no more to be written, this book is sealed, you can’t have anymore to say … That’s how one would treat a subordinate. And I think it’s insulting not to me but to those I represent,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said. 

Lee added that the bill is “perpetuating and worsening our already highly problematic federal public lands policy.” 

Lee on Thursday tried to get votes on five amendments — two from himself, one from Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), one from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and one from Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) — but Gardner objected.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) also made a pitch to get an amendment on offshore revenue sharing, which has not gotten a a vote, included in the bill, saying that it would pass. 

 
“It deserves a vote, it would pass. It protects so many lives,” Cassidy said.  

Although some Republicans have expressed opposition to the legislation, it is also supported by members of both parties. 

President Trump also announced support for funding the LWCF this year, though this was a turnaround from a previous proposal to slash the fund by about 97 percent. 

When he proclaimed his support, the president particularly named Gardner and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), major backers of the bill, both of whom are up for reelection.

Some view the legislation as an attempt to boost the vulnerable incumbents, but McConnell pushed back on that idea this week, saying “It’s in proximity to the election but nobody said you ought to quit doing things just because there’s an election.”

–Updated at 10:15 a.m.

Tags Bill Cassidy Cory Gardner Donald Trump John Kennedy Mike Braun Mike Lee Mike Rounds Mitch McConnell Roy Blunt Steve Daines Ted Cruz

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