I wish I had time to give this topic a proper treatment today. It deserves wider notoriety than it would get as a simple headline or Quick Take. Since I’m time-limited, I’ll use the time I do have to bring it to your attention, with just a couple of comments.
Edwin Mora summarizes the situation at Breitbart, based on a statement released by Ted Cruz.
“The decision to attach an extreme land grab to the NDAA is a disservice to members of the Armed Forces,” says Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), in statement. “With the military’s shrinking budget, it is offensive that this bill would be used to fund congressional pork. And, at a time where jobs are scarce and the federal government has removed billions of acres of land from productive use, Congress should not be restricting more than a half-million new acres.”
“The House and Senate should reject this attempt by self-serving politicians to exploit the men and women of the military to serve their special interests,” he urges.
According to Cruz, the “extraneous” land grab provisions in the NDAA include:
- 250,000 acres of new wilderness designations
- 400,000 acres withdrawn from productive use (for energy, mining, timber, etc.)
- Fifteen new national park units or park expansions
- Eight new studies for national parks
- Three new wild and scenic river designations
- 3 new studies for additional designations
- Study to begin the National Women’s History Museum
The federal government already owns an estimated 640 million acres of land, more than one-third of the entire country.
It’s certainly wrong to load down a “defense bill” with completely unrelated items, but that’s hardly a new thing. Congress has been doing it for years. It’s inexcusable every time it happens, which these days is every time a defense authorization bill is passed.
What’s especially repellent about this move is that land grabs which would come in for dispute – would very possibly fail to even make it to the floor for a vote, if introduced on their own – are being shoehorned into the “bill most likely to pass and be signed by a lame-duck Congress.” The proponents of these controversial land grabs are trying to sneak them through at a time when other factors (mainly the politics of the principal spending confrontation over the continuing resolution) will govern whether the bill passes.
The reason they want to do this is that the divided Congress has been unable to agree on a number of proposed land grabs over the last few years. Obama has bypassed Congress, in fact, and used his power under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to make federal land grabs for which that act was never intended, precisely because of the significant and growing opposition in Congress to the relentless expansion of federal land control.
Democrats in Congress, as well as the Obama administration, know that the incoming GOP Congress probably won’t give Obama any legislative victories in this area. So they’re trying to slide the land grabs through, in the one bill no one wants to be the guy or gal to hold up.
It’s sneaky, it’s underhanded, and – as Ted Cruz says – it treats the national defense like dirt, preempting its money for howlingly unrelated purposes. So it’s no surprise that Harry Reid is a major force behind it. Unfortunately, his Republican counterpart in Nevada, Dean Heller, has been pushing it too, and thinks it’s just great:
The NDAA agreement includes close to 100 natural resources provisions from across the nation, including eight Nevada public land provisions that have been priorities for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and his Republican counterpart Dean Heller.
In a statement celebrating the attachment of the public lands provisions to the NDAA, Sen. Heller, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, acknowledges that he “worked behind the scenes for months to attach these Nevada priorities, spurring economic development and enhancing national security, to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).”
The Republican-controlled House has been right in there packaging these provisions into the bill. The House Armed Services Committee announced the NDAA text with the following language:
The [NDAA] also includes a bipartisan, bicameral package of public lands provisions that was worked out by the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Natural Resources Committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Mitch McConnell has reportedly thrown down the gauntlet, for whatever that’s worth.
I am writing to inform you of my intent to utilize all procedural options at my disposal as a United States Senator, including objecting to any unanimous consent agreements or time limitations, if NDAA contains extraneous public lands provisions such as authorizing new National Park units, expanding wilderness areas, creating new National Heritage Areas, or expanding the federal land base.
If you care to, I suppose you can watch him use all the options at his disposal on C-SPAN and see them knocked aside one by one. It may take all of 20 minutes.
Assuming the Republicans in Congress poll poorly after ending 2014 with a massive cave-in on spending, and on “principle” issues like Obama’s amnesty order and the land grabs in the defense bill, the GOP leadership will no doubt conclude that the problem is Ted Cruz, whose untimely objections drove the mainstream media to deploy their patented Shutdown Speculation Tactic, and terrify the folks at home.