(S.32 ) On passage of legislation designating the Sequoia and Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness Areas, the Snake River Conservation Area, and more than 100 other new wilderness areas, scenic rivers, heritage and preservation initiatives, and water projects
This was a vote on a motion to suspend the usual House rules and pass S.22, which combined into one measure more than 160 proposals designating new wildernesses, wild and scenic rivers, hiking trails, heritage areas, water projects, and historic preservation initiatives. Among those were the Sequoia and Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness Areas, the Mt. Hood (OR) Wilderness Area, the Snake River Conservation Area, and several additions to the National Trail System.
Rep. Rahall (D-WV), who was leading the support for the legislation, described it as legislation that “protects our pristine public lands, the clear running streams and rivers, the wide open spaces, and the unique history that make this Nation great.” Rahall also said that the language of the bill clarifies that the measure “will not affect existing state authority to regulate hunting, fishing, and trapping on the lands in this package”, and emphasized that the language in the measure “was negotiated with the National Rifle Association and has the NRA's full support.”
Rep. Hastings (R-WA), who was leading the opposition to the bill, first argued that it “costs $10 billion at a time when taxpayers and the economy simply can't afford it.” He said it “contains 19 provisions to block American-made energy production, locking away hundreds of millions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. . . and new jobs won't be created when Americans desperately need them in these times.” He also said that the bill would ban recreational access to millions of acres of public lands and would make it “more difficult for the Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies to secure the southern border.”
A motion to suspend the rules and pass a bill is a procedural mechanism that is usually employed to gain approval for measures that the House leadership deems to be not very controversial. There is a limited time period for debate. Amendments cannot be offered. A two thirds vote is required to approve the motion and pass a bill, rather than the usual majority. Rep. Hastings argued that the bill was too important to be passed under the suspension of rules procedure. He said that “the Democrat leaders are shutting down everyone from offering amendments, including Democrats who have publicly been outspoken about wanting to remove entire provisions from S. 22.”
Hastings went on to argue that the suspension process “should be reserved for noncontroversial bills with little or no cost to the taxpayers. He characterized the use of the rules suspension mechanism in an attempt to pass the bill as “an extreme abuse of the process . . . .” Rahall responded that over 90 of the individual measures combined into S.22 had been reviewed by the House Committee on Natural Resources. Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ), the chair of that committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, added his support by arguing: “After too many years, during which the condition of our national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges were totally ignored . . . S. 22 is a long overdue recommitment to the protection and the preservation of our natural and cultural resources . . . .” Grijalva also contested Rep Hastings’ claim about the cost of the legislation by noting that the Congressional Budget Office “has stated this package is budget neutral.”
The legislation was defeated, even though a strong majority supported its passage, by a vote of 282-144. That was because a two thirds vote was required for passage under the procedure used here, in which the House rules were suspended during debate. Two hundred and forty-eight Democrats and thirty-four Republicans voted “aye.” One hundred and forty-one Republicans and three Democrats voted “nay”. Although this large public lands management bill was defeated here, the Democratic majority was able to pass it at a later date under regular House procedure that required only a majority vote for passage.