Conservatives kill controversial bill-
The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act passed the House last April, and the Senate version sponsored by Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana seemed poised to win Senate approval after beating back a number of filibuster attempts, a success that has become increasingly rare.
Nevertheless, the bill would have still had to survive a House/Senate conference committee at this late date in the lame duck session of this Congress. It didn’t even get that far. The bill was done in by yet another filibuster late on Nov. 26, 2012.
The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act began in the House, and while it was billed as a sportsmen’s bill, the House verison was primarily an attempt to attack Wilderness protection and public land in general in the name of hunting and fishing. Conservation groups frantically opposed the bill, but it passed the House 276 to 146 in April with a number of Democrats defecting to the GOP side. Almost every Republican voted for it.
The outlook for the conservation side improved greatly when Senator Tester introduced in the Senate a much more friendly version to conservationists and to Democrats. Before the 2012 election, where Tester faced a tough challenge from Montana’s lone U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg, he attached the Sportsmen’s bill to the Farm Bill, a very important piece of legislation that the Sportsmen’s bill was expected to ride into law. Surprisingly the Farm Bill itself did not clear Congress mostly because of a partisan dispute over food stamps, which Republicans wanted to cut.
Just before Thanksgiving, the Senate easily beat back several Republican filibusters of the Tester bill with large supermajorities. Prospects for passage looked good. However, a budgetary procedural amendment hurdle appeared. It was led by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama who didn’t like the tax revenues the bill would generate to buy conservation lands.
In the meantime, there was renewed opposition from conservationists because the bill contained a provision that prevented the EPA from regulating, or even studying lead in ammunition. A fight also broke out between the NRA and the Gun Owners of America. GOA thought the bill could result in the seizure of private lands. The NRA was very interested in making sure that lead was not regulated by the EPA.
At the end, Republicans rallied once again to their pledge to Grover Norquist to oppose any and all tax increases for any purpose. So the budget act procedural hurdle killed the bill with still another filibuster. Majority Leader Harry Reid needed 60 votes to beat the Republican filibuster on the budgetary point of order. In the end Majority Leader got a bare majority — 50 votes — ten short. Only one Republican Senator voted for the bill, retiring Maine Republican Olympia Snow.
With difficulty the bill might yet be revived. Some supporters are saying they will now try to move already passed anti-conservation House version onto some other piece of legislation that has to go before the Senate.
If the bill dies and interest remains in the next Congress — the 113th Congress — the bill will have to begin from scratch in the new Congress that meets in January. A Congress lasts for two years.
Filibusters in general will be a hot topic as the new Congress adopts its standing rules. In the U.S. Senate the filibuster has become so common that every major and many minor bills are subjected to it. It takes 60 votes to kill a filibuster. This is called invoking “cloture.” Bills can be subjected to more than one filibuster, however, as was the Sportsmen’s Act. As a result the 60 vote (60%) supermajority often has to be obtained repeatedly for a bill to pass.
In this Congress (the 112th) there have been almost 400 filibusters in the Senate, and Majority Leader Harry Reid appears determined to change the rules to limit them. The current Congress has passed fewer bills than any Congress in the last hundred or more years. It also has the lowest congressional favorability rating in the history of public opinion polls.
Tester’s bill got a story today from the Associated Press.
Late today, there was a story in Politco.
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.
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