A bipartisan conservation bill remained in limbo this week as Senate Republicans and Democrats worked to resolve GOP objections over the measure’s budgetary implications.
The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, a collection of 17 bills aimed at protecting habitat and providing better access for hunters and anglers, failed on a vote of 50 to 44 Monday night after Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) complained that the bill violated Senate budget rules.
The measure would raise the price of duck stamps, which hunters affix to their hunting licenses, to $25 from $15. Because the federal government uses the proceeds from the stamps to buy wetlands used by waterfowl, the Congressional Budget Office estimated this would mean $132 million in new spending in the next decade.
Sessions argued that this expenditure would violate the Budget Control Act of 2011, which set spending caps on congressional panels including the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the program. “When we make an agreement, I think we ought to adhere to it,” Sessions said.
On Tuesday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the vote a sign of the Senate’s dysfunction, noting that Republicans voted to halt a bill that “probably has more agreement on the other side than this side.”
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), is working with Senate leaders to find a way to both offset the spending and address Sessions’s objection that the bill violates the Constitution because revenue-raising measures originate in the House.
“Senator Tester is working with Senator Sessions and stakeholders to pass a once-in-a-generation bill that saves money, expands hunting and fishing, and strengthens conservation efforts,” wrote Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy in an e-mail. “He believes the merits of this bipartisan proposal will rise above minor political hurdles.”
The bill’s backers include the National Rifle Association, the National Wildlife Federation and the White House. The House has passed its version of the bill, which has a few differences, including language blocking the president from declaring any new national monuments under the Antiquities Act.
Vaughn Collins, director of government affairs for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said his and other outdoors groups “very much hope that the Senate can pass the Sportsmen’s Act and work with the House and president to see it become law this year.”
“The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 will expand public access for fishing and hunting, conserve valuable fish and wildlife habitat and reauthorize numerous programs that benefit sportsmen as well as all Americans,” Collins added.
Some environmental groups, however, have objected to a provision in the bill that says the Environmental Protection Agency cannot regulate components “used in shot, bullets and other projectiles,” such as bullets and fishing tackle. That would bar the agency from outlawing lead, which poisons imperiled California condors and other wildlife, and could potentially restrict the agency from regulating other chemicals.