Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Action in the Senate will begin this year with a Sunday vote on an omnibus public-lands bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on Wednesday.

The legislation was reintroduced on Wednesday by Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It combines more than 150 bills on wilderness areas and other federal lands, and would protect more than 2 million acres of wilderness in nine states.

Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) repeatedly blocked the bill last year, and has threatened to do so again, using any parliamentary tactic necessary. “The decision by Senate leaders to kick off the new Congress with an earmark-laden omnibus lands bill makes a mockery of voters’ hopes for change,” said Coburn in a statement on Tuesday. “This package represents some of the worst aspects of congressional incompetence and parochialism. Congress should spend the next few weeks holding hearings on an economic stimulus package and identifying areas of the budget to cut to pay for that proposal. Instead, the Senate is set to resume business as usual.”

Reid is using a Sunday vote to discourage delay by Coburn and other Republicans. “As Sen. Obama said, there are people who would love to be able to work on Sunday,” Reid said on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “We’re going to have to spend a little time on Saturdays and Sundays and night time especially during the first several months of this difficult time.”

Wilderness advocates are pleased that Reid is following through on his promise to move the omnibus bill early this year. “We applaud Majority Leader Reid for promptly taking up unfinished work from last year on this vitally important conservation measure,” said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America’s Wilderness. “With so much uncertainty in our lives today — from the struggling economy to conflict abroad — Americans are heartened by the assurance that their most beloved places will stay as they are, places where they can get away to hike, hunt, fish, camp, canoe or just find peace and solitude.”