Defense Bill Talks Derailed over Sage Grouse Provision

Defense Bill Talks Derailed over Sage Grouse Provision

Even while House and Senate negotiators hashing out a compromise version of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill have resolved many of the most contentious issues, the talks ground to a halt Wednesday night over a House provision barring the greater sage grouse from being protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Following the break down, leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees indicated further discussions will not take place until lawmakers return to Capitol Hill for a lame duck session after the November elections. That would leave Congress little time to respond to an expected presidential veto, putting in jeopardy the Armed Services committees’ 54-year streak of getting the bill enacted annually, reported CQ Roll Call.

When GOP proponents of the House language concerning the sage grouse insisted on retaining the provision and Senate Republicans refused to budge, the issue quickly became the negotiations’ key sticking point. The dispute over the sage grouse is somewhat connected to the military as placing the grassland bird on the endangered species list could limit its use of a handful of training grounds and ranges in the West.

Lawmakers appear to have resolved a dispute over topline funding, agreeing to split the difference over the House’s attempt to allocate $18 billion from DOD’s overseas contingency operations (OCO) account to the department’s base budget as a way to elude the statutory budget cap. The House and Senate Armed Services committees agreed to shift $9 billion to the base budget to cover unrequested items.

Despite the compromise, Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on House Armed Services, earlier signaled he may not support the final bill if it relied on any OCO funds to pay for base budget items.

“The budget deal was made and now they’re trying  . . .  to break the budget deal,” Smith said last week. “If you break it by $9 billion instead of $18 billion, that’s not really a significant improvement.”

In addition to risking the bill’s enactment, a decision by the two Armed Services committees to push negotiations into November could result in lawmakers reopening issues that already have been resolved, according to the story.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen
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