Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall Wednesday blasted the “obstructionist” tactics of Republicans angered by the passage of health care reform who are crippling the legislative process using an obscure rule to block hearings on Democrat-sponsored bills.
For the second day in a row, Republicans successfully canceled a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Udall’s National Forest Insect and Disease Emergency Act, which would provide more funds to the Forest Service to mitigate the fire danger posed by Colorado’s ongoing pine bark beetle epidemic.
State Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, whose mountain district has been ravaged by a more than 90 percent mortality rate in huge swaths of national forest, flew to Washington at his own expense– a $600 roundtrip– but had to return before he could testify.
“If Republican leadership had any idea of what we are facing in Colorado with this epidemic, they would stop these games now and let us do our jobs and help Colorado with this serious issue,” Gibbs said in a release. A former wildland firefighter, Gibbs has been very active on both the state and national beetle-kill-mitigation front.
The issue is largely nonpartisan in Colorado, where every passing fire season brings more and more concern about potentially catastrophic blazes in and around the state’s mountain communities. Finding funds to thin dead forests close to towns, ski resorts and reservoirs has been a top priority for Udall dating back to his days in the U.S. House.
“We had a year-long debate on health care insurance reform,” Udall said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “There were over 100 amendments included in the bill itself that were introduced by Republicans. It was controversial and contentious, but we resolve our difference at the ballot box on Election Day and we resolve our differences in Congress by holding up or down votes.”
Udall said playing games with public safety was a dangerous gambit for Republicans, especially using an arcane rule that allows members of the Senate to object to any hearing starting after 2 p.m., as well as any hearing that starts two hours after a Senate session begins.
Udall said an Armed Service Committee hearing on the 2011 budget and military strategy in the Pacific was canceled over the objections of ranking Republican Sen. John McCain, who asked for an exception. Two generals and an admiral traveled from Korea, Hawaii and Nebraska to testify.
Udall said a Veteran’s Affairs Committee hearing on plans to end homelessness among veterans and a Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on improving energy security and the environment through transportation policy were both cut short because of the two-hour rule.
“That’s the definition of an arcane rule, but one that could create great mischief as it has over the last few days,” Udall said. “Who wants to work around rules like that when you’ve got fire season looming?”