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In Final Act, Coburn Objects to Bundling Lands, Defense Bills

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

You could call it Sen. Tom Coburn's last stand.  

The Oklahoma Republican, who is retiring early at the end of the current Congress, is expected to force the Senate to jump through procedural hoops because of the bundling of unrelated lands bills in the National Defense Authorization Act.  

Coburn made his opposition to the inclusion of the lands bills known in a Nov. 19 letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that CQ Roll Call obtained Wednesday morning.  

"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," Coburn wrote. Bill text released late Tuesday confirmed that negotiators have included a slew of unrelated public lands measures, including eight in Nevada, in the defense authorization measure.  

"The bill 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. These provisions have been under consideration for several years and there is strong support in both Houses for including them in our bill," Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., explained in a joint statement.  

Coburn's opposition to such lands packages is well-documented. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has previously brought bundled lands bills to the floor just to get around Coburn.  

This week's collection includes almost 100 of these natural resources measures from across the country, including eight lands measures in Nevada that have been longstanding priorities of Reid and his counterpart, Republican Dean Heller.  

Heller released a statement celebrating their inclusion.

"This is great news for the entire state of Nevada. I've worked tirelessly from my first days in the House of Representatives to take the lead and ensure these lands bills were top priorities. I've been committed from the very beginning and am glad to see the fruits of this labor. I’m grateful my colleagues from the delegation, specifically Senator Reid and Congressman Amodei, collaborated in making these bills important action items this Congress. It was not an easy lift but the needs of Nevada were addressed, and I’m happy to achieve this goal. As this legislation becomes law, it will not only spur economic development in our state but enhance national security as well. Those are things we should all be proud to accomplish."
Among other things, the bill would establish a bipartisan, bicameral commission to study the creation of a National Women's History museum, as well as designate the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., as a "World War I Museum and Memorial."  

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, highlighted provisions in her home state.  

“This package includes important provisions that will boost communities throughout our state, including the settlement and finalization of lands issues in Southeast Alaska, the conveyances of land for community development in Anchorage, and at Fort Wainwright,” Murkowski said.  

As for the defense bill itself, the lead negotiators on the Senate side, noting the reality of Congress only being in session for at most another two weeks, are calling on their colleagues to avoid demanding amendments.  

"At this point, there is no way that we can resolve disputes about which amendments should be debated, debate them, overcome potential filibusters, and still get the job done. If we get nothing enacted, we would kill both the bill itself and the amendments that we’ve cleared, while providing no avenue for getting additional amendments enacted. We ask our colleagues to support us in bringing up and passing this bill without amendment as the best of a bad set of options," Levin and Inhofe said.  

Coburn's leverage may be limited, because the bill should arrive from the House in a fashion that could allow it to get through the Senate with only requiring one debate-limiting cloture motion and an accompanying 30 hours of debate.