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Focus shifts to House after Senate passes major public lands bill

Focus shifts to House after Senate passes major public lands bill
© Bonnie Cash

Eyes are on the House after the Senate passed a major conservation bill on Wednesday. 

The upper chamber approved the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), in a 73-25 vote. 

It would also provide $6.5 billion in funding to address a maintenance backlog at national parks. 

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The legislation has broad bipartisan and bicameral support, and earlier this month it was introduced in the House, which will take up the legislation before July 4, a senior Democratic aide told The Hill in an email on Wednesday. 

Rep. Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamRepublicans race for distance from 'America First Caucus' Lobbying world We lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money MORE (D-S.C.), who was part of the bipartisan group that introduced the companion bill, released a statement Wednesday calling for a vote. 

“At a time when our country needs it the most, this bipartisan legislation will deliver jobs to communities across the country, protect recreational access, preserve historic sites, and restore aging national park and public land infrastructure,” he said. “I urge House leadership to bring the Great American Outdoors Act to a vote on the House floor as soon as possible.”

On the other side of the aisle, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt also called for a vote in a series of tweets. 

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: LeBron James's 'racist rants' are divisive, nasty North Carolina man accused of fraudulently obtaining .5M in PPP loans Biden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies MORE "took bold action & provided unprecedented support for Congress to fix the aging infrastructure @NatlParkService and to permanently fund conservation projects,” he wrote. “It’s now time for the House to move this commonsense solution forward.”

Bernhardt singled out House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), tweeting, “Failure to move with dispatch to get this legislation enacted would be unconscionable.”

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However, since the Natural Resources panel already marked up two prior bills that the new legislation is based on, the committee is not expected to play an additional role in the legislation’s passage. 

The administration’s display of support for the measures follows a reversal from Trump, who earlier this year proposed slashing the LWCF, which provides money for conservation initiatives such as securing lands for national parks, by about 97 percent. 

He later changed his mind, calling on Congress to pass a bill that fully funds the LWCF, and gave shout-outs to Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (R-Colo.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesWyden-Paul bill would close loophole allowing feds to collect private data Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl 15 Senate Republicans pledge to oppose lifting earmark ban MORE (R-Mont.), both of whom face tough reelection races this year. 

Gardner and Daines, who were among the chief backers of the Senate legislation, pushed back on the notion that November's vote played a role in their actions. 

“This is not about politics. Montanans love the outdoors. I grew up fishing, hiking, hunting. I still do it today, and understand the importance of public access,” Daines told reporters on a press call. “This is the culmination of years and years of work.”

“I think it’s had everything to do with good policy and the fact that the Great American Outdoor Act is going to create jobs and opportunity across the country,” Gardner said.

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their Senate challengers didn’t see it that way. 

“I am glad that the Senate finally followed through on permanent, full-funding for the LWCF and addressed the backlog of maintenance for our public lands,” Montana governor and Daines challenger Steve BullockSteve BullockBiden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies Biden set to pick conservation advocate for top land management role Montana governor signs bill banning sanctuary cities MORE (D) said in a statement. “While I also applaud Steve Daines' efforts in helping get this across the finish line, Montanans deserve leadership that stands up for public lands and the best interests of the people of our state every day — not just in election years.

And Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Morgan Carroll accused Gardner of “election-year greenwashing” in a statement, adding that he “has shown resolute support for President Trump’s anti-environment, anti-science agenda.”