The Senate is poised to punt a public lands fight to January after a pair of conservative lawmakers objected to the bill because of a fight over national monuments.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and a bipartisan group of senators tried to get consent to move the package, which temporarily delayed passage of the short-term spending bill, but Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) objected.
Lee said he wanted two words “for Utah” to be included in the Antiquities Act, which would prevent a president from creating or expanding national monuments without state approval in Utah.
“This bill creates 1.3 million acres of wilderness, about half of which is in my state,” Lee argued, referring to the lands package. “Coming from a state where two-thirds of the land is owned by the federal government, where we can’t do anything without leave from the federal government, this hurts.”
Lee added that he received the text of the lands package, which would also reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, saying that he had tried to obtain an outline of the bill from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), but could only get a summary from a lobbyist.
“I’ve made what I consider a very reasonable offer, and I ask that it be accepted. It involves two words. I want the inclusion of two words to this bill, two words. Add the words ‘for Utah’ to the Antiquities Act,” Lee said.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican senator, said that in addition to Lee, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has placed a hold on the land legislation which will prevent senators from passing it this year unless they reach an agreement.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said they offered to give Lee a vote on his idea on Wednesday, but he rejected them.
“I am pretty darn upset. … We offered deal after deal after deal to try to get a deal arranged and made so that we could have a vote tonight,” Gardner said.
Murkowski and Cornyn said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have agreed to give it a vote shortly after the upper chamber returns in January.
Murkowski and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) added that they were confident the Senate would pass the lands package next year, including reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, noting that they believed a majority of the chamber supported.
“He was offered a chance to have this bill brought up and to have his ideas voted on and he knew he was going to lose. And he knows he’s going to lose in January,” Cantwell said, referring to Lee.
“My colleague … [is] imagining that somehow the land and water conservation fund being made permanent is not going to pass the United States Senate, he’s just dreaming of something that is really going to take place and become reality,” she continued.