A Different Omnibus 

Posted: 9:38 am Sunday, December 19th, 2010

By Jamie Dupree

Last week, an Omnibus Budget bill died in the Senate.  It was not the end of efforts by Democrats to put together wide-ranging legislation, as they unveiled a new Omnibus dealing with public lands bills.

This 1,003 page bill was given the nice name of “America’s Great Outdoors Act of 2010,” which certainly doesn’t sound like something that might be opposed in the waning days of a Congressional session.

“These are bipartisan bills,” said Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) in a statement issued on Friday. “There is nothing divisive about protecting historic battlefields, improving our most critical water sources, or making sure that our best wildlife habitat remains wild and healthy.”

But to Republicans in the Senate, this bill is a perfect example of what’s wrong on Capitol Hill right now, as it combines over 100 different public lands bills which authorize action on a host of National Parks, Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management actions.

And as you might guess, not all of them are considered bipartisan in nature.

The American Motorcyclist Association was one group demanding that the bill go nowhere, arguing that “the bill contains multiple land designations that threaten to end responsible motorized recreation across the country.”

For example, the bill states “no motorized access shall be allowed” to volcanic domes and other peaks and no mechanized travel on areas adjacent to the Santa Clara Indiana Reservation.

As you can see, these bills are almost all very local in nature.

I won’t even try to list the subjects involved, but I’ll roll off a few here: Valles Caldera National Preserve, Waco Mammoth National Monument, Oregon Caves National Monument Expansion, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor Center, Petersburg National Battlefield Boundary Modification, Cane River National Historical Park Curatorial Center and many more are in this bill.

You can look at all the details yourself at http://is.gd/iZoyc

The bill includes a number of references to one of my favorite legislative phrases, authorizing “such sums” as may be necessary to pay for certain provision in the bill.

In fact, “such sums” can be found 28 different times in the lands Omnibus, which is basically an open-ended authorization for spending.

But the best search you can do in this bill is for a dollar sign.  Yep, the “$” appears 164 different times.

So, you have 28 “such sums” designations, and 164 other notations of where a certain amount of money is needed to pay for these public lands bills.

“The Secretary may plan, design, construct, and install exhibits in the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center related to the use and management of the resources at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, at a cost not to exceed $1,500,000,” says the first one.

Other examples include $8 million for the International Coral Reef Consortium, $5 million for the Coastal Hypoxia Research Program, $500,000 for each of the next five years for the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue and Rapid Response Fund, $150 million in grants over five years by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, $180 million over six years to develop animal waste-to-bio-energy programs, and much more.

As always, when I get into lists like these, I add in the clarification that just because a program is listed here does not mean it is being judged as bad or wasteful.  It is just being listed to show the breadth of what is in the legislation.

You, the reader – and the voter – are best equipped to make the judgment as to what is useful spending and what is not.

Finally, the bill would authorize $20 million in Nutria Eradication Financial Assistance Awards.

The rats may be fleeing the sinking ship that is this Omnibus Lands bill in the final days of this Congress.

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