U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) today urged Senate leaders to reconsider their decision to block debate and obstruct all amendments to a 1,300 page omnibus lands bill with 164 different provisions. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has called the package "controversial" because it has angered groups on the left and right with its wasteful earmarks, anti-environmental provisions and provisions that erect new barriers to domestic energy production. Dr. Coburn today filed 13 amendments to the package that target Republican and Democrat projects. Full background on the lands package is here.
"I'm disappointed the Senate Majority Leader has refused to allow Senators the opportunity to improve, amend or eliminate any of the questionable provisions in his omnibus lands bill. When the American people asked Congress to set a new tone, I don't believe refusing to listen to the concerns of others was what they had in mind. The American people expect us hold open, civil and thorough debates on costly legislation, not ram through 1,300 page bills when few are watching. Blocking debate undermines the public's trust in Congress and suggests that Senators have something to hide. If Senators want to load this bill with earmarks and deepen our dependence on foreign oil, they should defend those provisions on the floor of the Senate, not hide behind procedural roadblocks," Dr. Coburn said.
"The American people have a right to know that this package would prioritize the funding of new and egregious pork projects like a road to nowhere in Alaska over critical maintenance of our national parks. The American people also have a right to know that this bill would erect new barriers to American sources of energy. One provision in this bill, which the Majority Leader won't subject to amendment, would permanently ban access to an enormous natural gas field in Wyoming that would match the annual production of our two largest natural gas producing states, Alaska and Texas. Congress seems to have forgotten that just a few months ago the price of oil hit $148 a barrel and gas cost $4 per gallon. We are once again putting our short-term parochial interests ahead of the best long-term interests of the country," Dr. Coburn said.
"Finally, while some have complained that I have used every procedural tool to block this bill I would respectfully remind Senate leaders that many more tools remain available to me and any other Senator who wants to exercise his or her rights. Our founders gave each individual Senator extraordinary procedural powers in order to prevent the tyranny of the majority. My goal is to use the rules to encourage debate while, I believe, Senate leaders are using the rules to obstruct debate. Blocking amendments, and attempting to silence the voices of millions of Oklahomans and other Americans who oppose business as usual in the Senate, is not a sustainable governing strategy, particularly when the American people are demanding change," Dr. Coburn said.
Dr. Coburn submitted the following amendments to Senate leaders earlier this week in hopes of reaching an agreement that would allow the Senate to consider this legislation in a timely manner. Dr. Coburn is confident the average American would expect the United States Senate to at least debate the merit of these amendments, which highlight questionable provisions in the legislation.
No funds may be spent on the new units to the National Park Service, new National Heritage Areas, studies, new Wild and Scenic designations, or new wilderness designations authorized by this Act until the Secretary of the Interior certifies that the maintenance backlog at the Statute of Liberty, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, Gettysburg, Antietam, USS Arizona Memorial, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and the National Mall in Washington, DC have been resolved
Nullify all restrictions on energy exploration and production within the bill
Strike provision restricting access to a major natural gas reserve in Wyoming
Strike $1 billion California water project to restore 500 salmon
Strike $3.5 million for the 450th Anniversary of St. Augustine, Florida
Strike $5 million for the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Hawaii and Florida
Strike earmark allowing for the construction of a "road to nowhere" through a national wild life refuge in Alaska
Strike a provision that would allow a cave institute in New Mexico to receive unlimited federal funding
Prohibit the use of eminent domain for any provision authorized in the bill
Annual report detailing total size and cost of federal property
Disallow the National Landscape Conservation System authorization from taking effect until an investigation by the Inspector General of the Department of Interior has been completed demonstrating that there was no criminal wrongdoing by the Department (There are allegations that the employees of the National Landscape Conservation System illegally coordinated with advocacy groups to permanently authorize the office)
Prohibits restrictions on hunting, fishing, and the possession or use of a weapon, trap, or net in new public lands created by this Act
Ensures that nothing in the Act shall prevent or obstruct the planning, construction, operation, or maintenance of a border fence or immigration enforcement