The U.S. House of Representatives took up legislation to approve the Great Lakes compact today, only to see the potentially historic final approval for Great Lakes protection delayed by an opponent’s procedural maneuver. Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio (D) gave an excellent introductory speech in favor of the legislation, S.J. Res. 45, which was unanimously approved by the Senate in August. (Note that the House is now using S.J. Res. 45 to approve the compact instead of the previous bill, H.R. 6577, since the Senate has already passed S.J. Res. 45. There is no substantive difference since joint resolutions, unlike concurrent resolutions, require the President’s signature and have the full force of federal law.) Rep. Howard Coble of North Carolina also spoke in favor of the compact on behalf of Republicans.
As expected, Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan opposed Congressional approval of the compact, based on what most legal experts conclude is a flawed understanding of the compact provisions and international trade law. Rep. Stupak has failed to persuade almost any of his Congressional colleagues on the merits of his arguments. However, when Rep. Sutton tried to move approval with a voice vote, Rep. Stupak objected on procedural grounds and the presiding officer was forced to postpone the motion.
You can watch the debate and procedural tactics with a series of C-SPAN video clips, part 1 and part 2. Deb Price of the Detroit News also has a good summary. As an aside, it’s a telling statement of civic involvement and media priorities that you have to hide under a rock to avoid hearing up-to-the-minute sports scores and stock market prices (let alone celebrity gossip), but it’s frustratingly difficult for citizens to see what exactly Congress did to govern the country during the day.
As for Rep. Stupak’s last-minute procedural tactic, I hope Congressional leaders won’t allow his misguided concerns to further delay approval of the Great Lakes compact. At this point, it’s clear that Rep. Stupak is grasping at straws. He claims to want more time to consider these issues, but numerous legal analyses going back to 2000 make clear that his concerns and arguments are unfounded. It’s time for him to admit that the rest of his colleagues in Congress (led by Democrats Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota), his party’s Presidential nominee, all 8 Great Lakes governors, 95% of Great Lakes state legislators, and well over a hundred local and regional environmental groups are not being hasty or insensitive to his concerns. They have all heard and rejected his arguments, and have almost every legal expert on their side. All of Rep. Stupak’s concerns have been raised for several years now (an entire book was written on the subject, with a foreword by Rep. Stupak), and nothing would be gained by more delay. I would happily spend every day from now until the end of the year discussing these issues in detail with Rep. Stupak, and invite any and every interested person to join us (unlike Congress, I really don’t have anything better to do). But that won’t satisfy the Congressman because he doesn’t have an open mind or want to learn more about the issue, he simply wants to be an obstacle to approval. If the Democratic leadership allows Rep. Bart Stupak to further delay Congressional approval of the Great Lakes compact before the election, it could cause voters to question the Democratic leadership's commitment to the Great Lakes and their effectiveness leading Congress.