Bipartisan public lands legislation shows Congress can actually work

By:  Union-Bulletin Editorial Board
Source: The Union-Bulletin

Bravo to the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate for kicking petty partisan politics to the curb (for the most part) and approving major public lands legislation. It revives an important conservation program, adds 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, expands several national parks and creates five new national monuments. 

The legislation, which was championed by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was approved by a whopping 92-8 vote. It heads to the Democrat-controlled House this week where the spirit of cooperation is expected to continue. The legislation includes provisions sponsored by more than half of the senators — a little something for everyone. 

In addition, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts the legislation would wind up saving money for taxpayers. 

If all goes as expected, President Donald Trump will sign this huge piece of legislation into law. It’s too early to call it a done deal, but it certainly feels promising.

This is largest public lands proposal considered by Congress in a decade. According to The Associated Press, it combines more than 100 separate bills that designate more than 350 miles of river as wild and scenic, add 2,600 miles of new federal trails and create nearly 700,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas. 

The bill also withdraws 370,000 acres in Montana and Washington state from mineral development.

Republicans and Democrats agreed (pick your jaw off the floor) that the legislation’s most important provision is to permanently reauthorize the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the country. The program expired last fall after Congress could not agree on language to extend it. 

The collegiality has stunned the folks inside the Beltway, which is how the policy wonks refer to themselves in Washington, D.C. 

This “is a case study for how lawmaking is supposed to work,” wrote Washington Post reporter James Hohmann in a new analysis Wednesday morning. “There were compromises that delivered a little something for everyone across the ideological spectrum, even if no one really got everything they wanted. Unlike so much legislation that gets drafted at the last minute and passed in the middle of the night, this circulated and percolated for years. There were hearings, markups and good-faith negotiations. When a handful of holdouts tried to insert poison pills during the amendment process to torpedo the bill, Republicans and Democrats stuck together. It was old-school and harked back to a time when Congress worked.” 

It shows, if nothing else, that the ongoing dysfunction has limits. 

This piece of compromise legislation seems very sound. It’s good for the nation. 

The approach needs to continue.