Udall: Beetle bill delay jeopardizes communities
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said Wednesday that Republican use of an arcane Senate rule to block a hearing on his bark beetle bill jeopardizes the chances of providing timely help for communities threatened by the insect’s outbreak.
For two days in a row, Senate Republicans prevented the hearing by invoking a rule to stop hearings from occurring more than two hours after the start of the Senate’s daily session.
They acted out of protest against the recent passage of health care legislation into law.
The Republicans also used the rule to block other hearings, including a Senate Armed Services Committee budget hearing.
“This is irresponsible. This isn’t a game. Republicans are preventing the Senate from taking action on national security and public safety,” Udall said in a media teleconference.
Udall’s bill would take steps including expediting thinning of beetle-killed forests near communities to better protect them from wildfires. He said the measure needs to be passed soon if the U.S. Forest Service and logging contractors are going to be able to make plans based on it to act before the summer wildfire season.
State Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, took time off from the state legislative session this week and spent $600 of his own money to travel to Washington with the intent of testifying on the bill, Udall said.
Udall said committee schedules tend to be full, which could make it hard to reschedule the beetle bill hearing soon.
Udall’s bill is cosponsored by Republican Sen. James Risch of Idaho, who voted against the health care legislation. Risch spokesman Brad Hoaglun said any effects of the bill’s delay on work this summer remain to be seen.
Hoaglun wouldn’t address directly the question of the appropriateness of the Republican maneuver on the bill. But he said Risch “and Senator Udall are certainly working together on this, and I think they’ll make sure that bill gets a hearing and appropriate things happen and it moves forward.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate and former congressman Scott McInnis of Grand Junction said he wasn’t familiar with the Republicans’ action involving the bill. But he added, “I assure you, in something as controversial as the health care bill, political posturing is going on with the Democrats as well.”
More generally, he said, “Every senator back there and every congressman back there has a set of rules, and they’re allowed to use those rules, and my guess is Udall used them, too.”
Democrats reportedly have previously invoked the rule used by Republicans this week. But Udall said it’s not right for either party to do so, and there are other ways for senators to make their voices heard.
McInnis, who opposes the health care measure because of its cost to states and its mandate that people buy insurance, said he hasn’t seen Udall’s beetle measure.
But he said it is critical to address the fire danger from beetle-killed forests.
While in Congress, McInnis shepherded through legislation called the Healthy Forest Initiative as a response to the early beetle outbreak.
But he believes the Forest Service could have gotten ahead of the beetle problem back then if there had been less opposition to logging.