Reid Apologizes to Coburn Over Lands Bill

Posted April 9, 2008 at 6:38pm

In an abrupt turnaround, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Wednesday backed away from a planned floor showdown with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), agreeing to allow Coburn to offer a number of amendments to a public lands bill package and apologizing to the Oklahoman for any misunderstanding.

For weeks, Reid and Coburn engaged in a low-intensity staredown over Reid’s decision to circumvent a December unanimous consent deal allowing Coburn to offer five amendments to the lands bill package. Reid went around the deal earlier this year after he learned that Coburn would offer a controversial amendment allowing guns on national parks.

Reid’s decision to circumvent the deal angered a number of Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Although the package of land bills included a number of provisions backed by Republicans — and several of the GOP’s “Old Bulls” criticized Coburn for originally holding the bill — McConnell and Coburn successfully argued that Reid’s tactics would undermine Members’ ability to trust the Majority Leader and was a question of protecting the minority party’s rights.

Reid apologized to Coburn in a brief floor statement on the UC agreement.

“I appreciate the understanding of Senator Coburn who came to my office. We had a very warm discussion. And if there was a misunderstanding, and obviously there was, I certainly apologize to everyone for any inconvenience I caused but as I’ve indicated, I think this is — accomplishes what we need to do. Again, I appreciate the understanding of Senator Coburn,” Reid said.

Reid on Wednesday evening proposed a new unanimous consent deal that will allow Coburn to offer four of his five amendments. Under the deal that led to the UC, Coburn will not offer the gun amendment. Coburn’s amendments will instead deal largely with fiscal issues, including requiring the government to liquidate a portion of its unused and unneeded lands to pay for the cost of the bill, as well as new requirement that the government maintain a public database of public land holdings, among others.

Despite Reid’s apology, Coburn spokesman John Hart said the lawmaker was still disappointed he would not be allowed to offer all of his amendments and would look for future opportunities to push the gun measure. “Dr. Coburn is disappointed his UC agreement was not honored and will force votes on his amendments at an appropriate time,” Hart said.