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Mr. LEE. Mr. President, I stand today to explain my ``no'' vote on cloture this morning in connection with the sportsmen's bill, S. 3525.
This is a large bill. It is made up of a number of legislative proposals that have been put together. In many settings this is a good way to legislate. In many respects it is, and we utilize this procedure on an almost constant basis in order to make the laws of our country. Like many other pieces of legislation that come before us that have been formed in this fashion, this is a bill as to which I can say I support it in part and I don't support it in part. There are parts of it I like a lot, and there are other parts I like a lot less. That is exactly why we have an amendment process. True debate in this country, especially in this body, presupposes and depends for its existence on the availability of an open amendment process.
You see, when people go into a store, they can decide which items they want to buy. They can decide to buy bread and milk and eggs or any combination of the three or other products they might want. It would be disturbing if they got to the grocery store counter and were told they may not buy bread and milk and eggs unless they also buy a bucket of nails, a half a ton of iron ore, a book about cowboy poetry, and a Barry Manilow album. Sometimes that is what we are told when we get to the table to vote in the Senate. In order to get some things we want, we have to buy a whole bunch of other things we might not want.
That is a reality of the legislative process. It is a reality that goes along with compromise, and it is one we live with every day. But, again, this is why it is important for us to have an amendment process, so that we can at least debate the relevant merits of each piece of legislation. More importantly, so that we might figure out how to take a good piece of legislation and make it better or how to take a bad piece of legislation and make it good.
In this circumstance, the majority leader has used a procedure known as filling the tree. He filled the tree, which means, in effect, that we can't offer amendments. We can't offer any amendments other than those few the majority leader decided could be offered. This shuts down debate. There can be no significant debate beyond that which will lead to a vote once the tree has been filled. This is a problem.
Now, Republicans in this body, myself included, voted recently to proceed to this bill believing in good faith there would be an opportunity to amend this bill. The bill is important to me in many respects. One of the things that has gotten my attention is that it addresses a number of issues related to Federal public lands. It addresses a number of other issues related to wildlife conservation and wildlife management and other issues that are important to hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts across the country and in my State in particular.
One of the reasons this bill is especially important to me is that I represent the great State of Utah--a State that has a lot of Federal land. In fact, two-thirds of the land in my State is owned by the Federal Government. For that and other reasons I would like the opportunity to address this piece of legislation by offering amendments--amendments that would make a good bill better.
But this process--a process whereby the majority leader rules this body by dictate--is not good for the Senate. We have come to expect the Senate will be a great deliberative body. In fact, the Senate has long prided itself on being the world's greatest deliberative legislative body.
There are a number of realities about the Senate that make this possible--far more possible than it might be in the House of Representatives. Here in the Senate we have only 100 Members. Just down the hall, in the House of Representatives, they have 435 Members. In that body it is not always possible to have an open amendment process. In this body it is assumed this is the usual order. This is how we are supposed to operate, to have an opportunity for Members to offer and debate and discuss amendments in advance of voting for the bill at the end of the day. Yet we have not had such an opportunity in this case because the leader filled the tree.
This is significant, and I want to emphasize this point. It is true, of course, that majority leaders from both political parties have utilized this procedure from time to time, for one reason or another--perhaps out of a professed need to expedite the legislative process in certain instances. But this majority leader has utilized this procedure a lot more than others. In fact, he has utilized it, by my count, a total of 67 times, more than any other majority leader in history. Why, I ask, has he done this? Why did he do it in this circumstance? Why has he done it in so many other circumstances throughout this Congress and throughout his service as majority leader?
Is it because the Senate has demonstrated an inability to debate and discuss bills and amendments to bills in a reasonable, responsible manner? I don't think so. Let's point to a couple of examples. For example, the National Defense Authorization Act, which this body passed toward the end of last year--the NDAA of 2011. It passed out of this body overwhelmingly, notwithstanding the fact there were a number of amendments introduced. I believe there were dozens of amendments that were introduced, debated, discussed, and ultimately voted upon.
Another example involved the farm bill. It was passed by this body earlier this year. If I am not mistaken, we had over 70 amendments to that bill. I appreciated the majority leader's willingness in that circumstance to allow us to have a pretty open, robust debate and an open amendment process. We still passed the bill, even though we had to conduct a lot of debate and have a lot of discussion and have a lot of votes. But this, you see, is what makes this the greatest deliberative body in the world.
This is what separates us from other legislative bodies around the country and throughout this planet. So it is not the case the Senate simply isn't responsible enough to be able to handle something such as an open amendment process because it has demonstrated its ability to do so time and time and time again.
Now, let's talk about some of the things I like in this bill. I support the fact that this bill would increase access to public lands and remove some burdensome regulations on some activities occurring on those lands. On the other hand, I am not as wild about the fact that this bill devotes $6.5 million on neotropical migratory birds on a program that would require 75 percent of those funds to be spent outside the United States. I know in the big picture of things this is a very small figure in terms of our total national budget. Nevertheless, this is a lot of money. It is a lot of money to hard-working Americans who are paying their taxes in order to fund programs like this. We ought at least to have an opportunity to debate amendments so that Americans can feel as if their money is being spent in the United States for causes that are important to Americans and not on birds outside the United States.
Other Senators have other differences with the bill, other concerns. I agree with some of those concerns; I disagree with others. Each of them should have an opportunity to have those concerns aired, to have them debated in connection with amendments they might choose to introduce. We should be debating all of them. Instead, in effect, we are debating none of them.
That kind of process is especially important in this circumstance because, you see, this bill, as I understand it, has never gone through committee. Normally, in committee we have an opportunity to put a bill through the markup process, to make amendments in committee. This didn't go there. All the more reason we should have an open amendment process right here.
So I have introduced several amendments, and I will refer to just a few of them. One of them would involve a proposal to not spend money we don't have in order to support the conservation of multinational species. It will cost $150 million over 5 years. In other words, it is one thing to spend money on habitat preservation and species rehabilitation for species that actually exist in the United States. It is another thing to spend a lot of money on species outside the United States, on creatures that have never entered our borders and never will. That is something I think Americans are concerned about, and it is something I think we ought to have a chance to debate as long as we are debating and voting on this legislation.
I have another piece of legislation that would require State legislative approval for any new Federal land designations. As I said a few minutes ago, with the Federal Government owning two-thirds of the land in my State, I am especially concerned about the possibility of, for example, the President deciding to just designate a new national monument within my State. This happened a few years ago when President Clinton designated the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument inside Utah. He didn't go to Utah to announce it, he went to Arizona to announce it.
This is beautiful land. It is beautiful territory. But all of this was accomplished by the stroke of a pen from one Chief Executive without any opportunity or input from Utah, from its 3 million residents, from its elected officials. I think anytime the Federal Government takes this kind of action--action that will have a profound impact on the State, on its sovereign rights, on its ability to raise revenue, on its ability to encourage and promote economic activity within its boundaries--there ought to be input and approval from the State legislature. I have an amendment that would address this concern.
I have another amendment that would offer certain Federal lands for disposal by a competitive sale process. We have an enormous amount of land in this country. Some of it is being put to good use; other land is being set aside because of its wilderness characteristics; still other land is just sitting there not doing anything. I think some of that land could be sold and some of that money could be used to fund our programs--programs that are cash strapped, along with everything else in this country right now.
These and other amendments need to receive consideration. I am not saying every one of them has to pass in order for this legislation to proceed, but every one of them ought to be debated, and the American people should have an opportunity to have their input through their own elected Senators.
I would deeply regret it if this were somehow an indication that our majority leader intends to operate the Senate this way, not only throughout the duration of this Congress but into the next Congress as well. I want to be clear that I have great respect and admiration for our majority leader. I have known him for most of my life--since I was 11 years old, in fact. I consider him a friend.
I ask him--I implore him--as my friend to reconsider this practice of filling the tree and thereby forestalling the introduction of amendments. We need an open amendment process. Our status as the world's greatest deliberative legislative body requires nothing less.
Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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