The Senate will take the decisive vote around noon today on legislation that would authorize millions of dollars for maintaining public lands around the country.
There is very little suspense about whether S. 3422 will pass. The “Great American Outdoors Act” would permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and address a multibillion-dollar backlog of deferred maintenance projects across national parks and federally owned land.
It is being touted as the most consequential conservation measure to be considered by Congress in decades and will be carried across the Senate finish line with bipartisan support.
But wanting to take nothing for granted and working to ensure as overwhelming a victory as possible, advocates were still making last-minute calls this week to shore up attendance and lock down support among eleventh-hour fence-sitters.
Collin O’Mara, the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, told E&E News that his group was, as of late afternoon yesterday, targeting Republican Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Rick Scott of Florida.
These lawmakers voted “yes” on some procedural motions throughout consideration of the legislation but voted against invoking cloture Monday night — the last hurdle before the vote on final passage. That vote was 75-23.
In a letter yesterday, nearly four dozen environmental advocates around Texas formally implored their senior home state senator, Republican John Cornyn, to support the bill “at a time when the country can feel so divided [and] it is important for members of Congress to come together and pass legislation that is popular and meaningful to the general public.” Cornyn said late last week he remained undecided.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Audubon Society and Pew Charitable Trusts jointly reiterated their support for the “Great American Outdoors Act” in a statement Monday.
The Chamber’s earlier announcement that it would “score” the vote on the legislative package was said to have been an influencing factor for some conservative senators who might have been disinclined to back the bill.
Minds made up
At the same time, many advocates said earlier this week they were heartened by the bipartisanship they have seen already coalesce around the lands package and signaled they were resigned to the fact that as many as two dozen Republicans could oppose the legislation today.
The same contingent of roughly 20 Republicans have repeatedly voted against procedural motions over the past week of floor debate.
Many of them are longtime critics of the structure of the LWCF or are fiscal hawks who don’t want to spend money on a deferred maintenance trust fund — or are furious that their leadership won’t allow votes on amendments.
“We’re constantly going to encourage them and urge them to do the right thing,” said Julia Peebles, government relations manager for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, of these critics, “but I think you and I both know some minds are already made up in the Senate.”
Some of the legislation’s most consistent opponents recently told E&E News they were being left alone at this point.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told E&E News recently that no one has tried to talk him into supporting the bill. “It has plenty of support already,” said Romney in explaining why he wasn’t being whipped.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) agreed that he was being left alone by lead sponsors: “I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with them relative to that.”
Senate GOP leadership remains, however, fully prepared to claim a bipartisan victory on the bill — ignoring both the GOP holdouts and the fact that Democrats will likely support the measure unanimously.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in his opening floor remarks yesterday morning continued to heap praise on Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana — the Republicans leading the charge on the “Great American Outdoors Act” and among the most vulnerable 2020 incumbents — for bringing the bill “to the finish line.”
“I urge all members to join me in supporting this bill and securing our national wonders for generations of Americans to come,” he said.