Trade, mining proposals in limbo in Senate mess

By Nick Sobczyk | 06/13/2018 07:01 AM EDT

The Senate defense authorization bill yesterday hit a procedural snag on several amendments, including a proposal to limit President Trump’s authority to set tariffs.

The snafu could mean that a pair of controversial mining amendments filed by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) never get a vote.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has been pushing for an add-on to the National Defense Authorization Act that would require congressional approval of any tariffs imposed by Trump under the national security provisions contained in Section 232 of a 1962 trade statute.


But it has run into "blue slip" issues because of the Constitution’s origination clause, which requires bills that raise revenue start in the House.

That led Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), managing the bill on the floor in the absence of Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), to object to Corker’s attempt to offer the amendment and remedy the blue-slip problem yesterday.

Corker, in an impassioned floor speech, said he was disappointed that members of his own party were refusing to vote on the bill because it would "upset the president."

"I can’t believe it!" he said. "I would bet that 95 percent of people on this side of the aisle support, intellectually, this amendment. I would bet that. I would bet more than 95 percent."

Corker said he would allow the process to move forward without his amendment, but the bill has hit a web of other roadblocks.

Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky are holding up the NDAA until they get votes on a pair of amendments related to indefinite detention at military prisons. Other senators, meanwhile, have threatened to hold up the process if Lee and Paul do get their votes, Inhofe said.

Corker estimated yesterday that there are "about 15 people blocking the bill." The situation has put the Senate in a bind and could effectively mean that no amendments get a vote.

"That’s a possibility," said Inhofe.

That includes two proposals on critical minerals — elements deemed vital to national security — that have sparked an outcry from environmentalists.

One, from Heller, would make myriad changes to environmental permitting for mining, including designating a lead federal agency and slapping a 30-month time limit on National Environmental Policy Act reviews.

The other, from Murkowski and Heller, would require the Interior Department to determine which minerals are "critical" and address permitting delays.

Also included in a bipartisan manager’s package of amendments awaiting approval is a proposal by Minnesota Democratic Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar to codify a land exchange between PolyMet Mining Corp. and the Forest Service, paving the way for a major copper-nickel mine in Minnesota (E&E Daily, June 12).

For now, Corker’s amendment is effectively dead and the rest on standby. And Majority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday took a procedural step to move toward final passage.

Senate leaders had been hoping to finish up on the bill by Friday, but Inhofe acknowledged yesterday that it could bleed into next week.

"It could," he said. "I don’t want it to."

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.